Design Engineering

MDA contracted to 3D scan near-Earth asteroid

OSIRIS-REx laser altimeter to create high density topographical maps and help navigate NASA spacecraft.

February 27, 2013   by Design Engineering Staff

The Canadian Space Agency has awarded MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. a CAD$15.8 million contract for the preliminary design of a laser altimeter for NASA’s New Frontiers Program—OSIRIS-REx. Scheduled for 2016, the OSIRIS-REx space mission plans to launch a spacecraft to near-Earth asteroid 1999 RQ36 where it will conduct comprehensive photographic and x-ray imaging before setting down on its surface, collecting a sample and returning to Earth.

For MDA’s part, the aerospace company will be developing the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), a small on-board instrument designed to collect high density 3D point cloud data. The resulting topographical maps will then help the spacecraft navigate towards the asteroid and identify potential sample acquisition sites. In addition, the scanner is also intended to return the highest density 3D data of a small space body yet recorded.

Design of the OLA system will be based on MDA’s scanning lidar system built for the US Air Force Research Laboratories XSS-11 mission and the company’s Phoenix Mars Lidar system.

According to NASA, 1999 RQ36 is currently the most accessible carbonaceous asteroid and the most potentially hazardous to Earth. Analysis of a regolith sample from its surface — in addition to image, 3D point cloud and spectromoter data –- is intended to help scientists understand early planet formation as well as characterize asteroids that can impact Earth.

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