The Government of Canada recognizes the valuable contributions of the nation’s researchers as they continue to explore new frontiers in science. Today, Canadian-built technology launched on board a NASA spacecraft that is en route to a mysterious asteroid named Bennu. The OSIRIS-REx launch occurred at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:05 p.m. EDT and was attended by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science. She was joined on site by Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and Dr. Erick Dupuis, the CSA’s Director of Space Exploration Development.

Funded by the CSA, the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) is the most sophisticated lidar system ever launched to an asteroid, containing approximately 4,000 mechanical parts and 3,000 electrical parts, and using less power than a light bulb (75 W). OLA will create precise, high-resolution 3D maps of asteroid Bennu’s entire surface, helping scientists select the best site to extract a sample for return to Earth. In return for our contribution, Canada will own four percent of the returned sample, which will be curated and studied in Canada for decades to come.

The OSIRIS-REx mission will investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. Observations using telescopes have revealed Bennu to be rich in carbon, unusually dark in colour, and unlike any samples in meteorite collections. Asteroids like Bennu are the direct remnants of the original building blocks of the terrestrial planets in our solar system.

It will take two years for the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to reach Bennu. The sample will return to Earth in 2023.

Quick facts

Dr. Michael Daly of York University is the OLA Instrument Scientist and the Canadian Science Team Lead. Dr. Catherine Johnson, University of British Columbia (UBC), is the deputy instrument scientist for OLA. The OLA instrument science team is composed of researchers from York, UBC, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, MDA and the CSA.
The CSA also funds a team of Canadian scientists contributing to the mission: Dr. Edward Cloutis, University of Winnipeg; Dr. Rebecca Ghent, University of Toronto; Dr. Alan Hildebrand, University of Calgary; and Dr. Kim Tait, Royal Ontario Museum.
OSIRIS-REx stands for “Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer.”

The CSA’s total investment in OSIRIS-REx for the full life cycle of the mission is $61 million (including taxes) over 15 years.


“I am honoured to have represented Canada at the launch of this exciting mission, the first step in our quest to study asteroid Bennu—a ‘cosmic fossil’ that could give today’s students—our future scientists and researchers—clues about the origins of Earth and our solar system.”
– The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

“OLA is a showcase for Canadian science and engineering expertise. It is the first of a new class of laser-ranging instruments for asteroid and comet missions that provides extremely high resolution measurements of their shape and topography while creating additional observational flexibility and efficiency.”

– Dr. Michael Daly, OLA Instrument Scientist and Canadian Science Team Lead, York University