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Laser Altimeter Will Aid Spacecraft's Visit to Asteroid

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A laser altimeter from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has arrived at Lockheed Martin Space Systems for integration onto NASA's OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) spacecraft.

The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) will create 3D maps of the near-earth asteroid Bennu, aiding in the selection of a sample collection site. The advanced lidar system will provide mission scientists with fundamental data on the asteroid's shape, topography, surface processes and evolution. An accurate shape model will also be an important tool for navigators as they maneuver the spacecraft around the 500-m-wide asteroid.

The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter will create 3D maps of the asteroid Bennu to help the mission team select a sample collection site.
The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter will create 3D maps of the asteroid Bennu to help the mission team select a sample collection site. Courtesy of Debbie McCallum/NASA/Goddard.

"OLA will measure the shape and topography of Bennu to a much higher fidelity and with much greater efficiency than any planetary science mission has achieved," said Michael Daly, OLA instrument lead at York University in Toronto. "This information is essential to understanding the evolution and current state of the asteroid. It also provides invaluable information in aid of retrieving a sample of Bennu for return to Earth."

The instrument was built for CSA by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. and Optech. In exchange for providing the laser altimeter, CSA will receive a portion of the returned asteroid sample for study.

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to ship from Lockheed Martin's facility to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in May, where it will undergo final preparations for a September launch.

The spacecraft will travel to Bennu and bring a 60-g sample back to Earth. Scientists say the asteroid may hold clues to the origins of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules that may have made their way to Earth. The investigation will also inform future efforts to mitigate asteroid impacts on Earth.

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2016
An acronym of light detection and ranging, describing systems that use a light beam in place of conventional microwave beams for atmospheric monitoring, tracking and detection functions. Ladar, an acronym of laser detection and ranging, uses laser light for detection of speed, altitude, direction and range; it is often called laser radar.
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