Canadian Space Agency to launch laser on near-Earth asteroid mission

ABOVE: (Jul 19, 2014) While the chances it will hit earth are slim to none – the real risks won’t be known until scientists can analyze the asteroid close up. Mike Drolet report.

TORONTO – The Canadian Space Agency announced on Thursday that it will send a laser to a near-Earth asteroid mission set to return a sample to Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx mission (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith) will launch in 2016 and arrive at the asteroid Bennu in 2018.

Once it arrives it will collect a sample of the asteroid and return it to Earth in 2023. This will be the first mission of its kind.

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The laser altimeter, called the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), will be manufactured, assembled and tested by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates as well as Canadian company Optech.

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Example of the laser altimeter. Nicole Mortillaro, Global News

“Canada has a tremendous history in space,” said Walter Natynczyk, head of the Canadian Space Agency, noting our country’s success in robotics such as the Canadarm2 and Dextre, which are both aboard the International Space Station.

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Canada is a key partner in the NASA-led mission to Bennu.

Bennu, named by a North Carolina third-grader in the “Name that Asteroid!” contest organized by the mission, is of particular interest as it is carbonaceous, meaning that it is rich in carbon and organic material. These are considered some of the building blocks of life.

Tony Clement, Treasury Board President was on hand at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto for the announcement.

“I couldn’t help but get the theme for Armageddon out of my head,” Clement joked. “Of course, that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to find out more about asteroids.”

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OLA will create a 3D map over six months of the asteroid that is roughly the size of three football fields. This will be the most accurate map ever created of an asteroid.

Nicole Mortillaro, Global News

“OSIRIS-REx is very cool,” said Mike Daly, of York University who has helped worked on the mission. “Scientists are really interested in the data OLA will provide… We get a sample back.”

The mission will also help us better understand the threat Bennu poses to Earth.

Current estimates put the risk of an Earth impact at one in 2700.

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