The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ottawa pledges funding for key Canadian component in asteroid-bound mission

  • Print

TORONTO - Canada is moving ahead with building a key component for a space mission that will explore an asteroid and eventually bring a piece of it back to Earth.

With the help of $8.84 million in funding announced by the federal government on Thursday, construction is set to begin on the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter — a mapping system that will create 3D maps of the asteroid Bennu.

"This is really groundbreaking for space exploration," said Treasury Board president Tony Clement, who presented details of the project in Toronto.

"It means we'll have a better understanding of the origins of the solar system and of course that helps us understand many things, including our environment, including the mineral composition of bodies outside of the Earth and so it's of historic scientific importance. And it also helps, incidentally, the space industries that we have here in Canada."

The Canadian Space Agency and technology company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates have been designing the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter since 2008.

The latest funding commitment — which is part of a planned $61 million for the project over 15 years — will allow the Canadian scanning system to be constructed in preparation for an American-led NASA mission, which will blast off in late 2016 and reach the asteroid Bennu in late 2018.

Once there, it will spend eight months studying the asteroid's geology to help scientists select a site from which to collect a sample.

The spacecraft will then approach the surface of the asteroid and, without landing, will use a robotic arm to collect at least 60 grams of material from its surface.

The asteroid sample is expected to return to Earth by 2023, at which time Canada will get to own four per cent of it, giving Canadian scientists their first-ever direct access to an asteroid sample brought from space.

"(Asteroids) contain material, original material, from our solar system and when you study them it helps us understand the conditions of our solar system, its birth and maybe even the origin of water on Earth," said Walt Natynczyk, president of the Canadian Space Agency.

"The information in this mission will also help us in our knowledge of how to track the orbits of asteroids, especially when they come near the Earth."

The asteroid the mission is focusing its attention on is thought to be rich in carbon, dark in colour and is unlike any samples found in meteorite collections. It is thought to have a one in 2700 risk of impacting Earth in about 200 years.

The reason such asteroids are of interest is because of how little they've changed since they formed, said Craig Thornton, general manager for robotics and automation division at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates.

It's a time capsule from about 4.5 billion years ago," he said. "This is going to be an opportunity to provide a really up close and personal look at an asteroid, a place that very few instruments have ever visited before."

The Canadian scanning system, which is going to be rigorously tested before it leaves Earth, will give scientists millions of pieces of information about the asteroid.

"It will have created 160 million sample measurements, each accurate to a couple of centimetres. So at the end of the day we're going to have a very, very precise map of Bennu's surface," said Thornton. "It will actually be the most accurate map that's ever been created of an asteroid."

The mission to Bennu is part of NASA's larger New Frontiers Program, which aims to explore the solar system with frequent spacecraft missions that conduct scientific investigations.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Bowman questioned on financial solutions for city

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JJOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-Postcard  Day-Horror frost and fog created a most beautiful setting at Assiniboine Park Thursday morning in WInnipeg- Enviroent Canada says the fog will lifet this morning and will see a high of -7C-  JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Feb 18, 2010
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Are you worried Ebola might make its way to Canada?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google