York researcher part of team developing instrument to map asteroid

The Canadian Space Agency has awarded two contracts to Richmond, BC-based MDA Ltd. and a contract to the University of Calgary to develop three different concept studies for Canada’s participation in NASA’s New Frontiers Program − the next space venture to another celestial body in our solar system.

Under these contracts, worth $500,000 each, MDA and the University of Calgary will work with international science research teams to develop preliminary designs for the three proposed missions, one of which will be selected by NASA for launch on a planetary space mission between 2016 and 2018. The final decision will be made in 2011.

Michael Daly, a professor in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, is the deputy science team lead on the University of Calgary’s project. He will oversee the Canadian instrument development for the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), which would collect samples from a primitive asteroid and return them to Earth. The samples would help scientists better understand the formation of our solar system and the origin of complex molecules necessary for life.

Left: NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope set its infrared eyes upon the dusty remains of shredded asteroids around several dead stars. This artist’s concept illustrates one such dead star, or white dwarf, surrounded by the bits and pieces of a disintegrating asteroid. Image: NASA/JPL Caltech.

The OSIRIS-REx proposal includes a lidar instrument, based in part on the Canadian-built laser used on NASA’s Phoenix-Mars lander. Daly will collaborate with colleagues at the Universities of Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and British Columbia to develop a lidar capable of mapping asteroids and moons. Michael Drake at the University of Arizona in Tucson is the principal investigator for the overall project.

“This project builds upon York’s long history of successful collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency and our expertise in developing instrumentation for space research,” said Michael Siu, associate vice-president research, science & technology. “We have every confidence that Professor Daly and the rest of the OSIRIS-REx team will make significant strides.”

Daly, a former staff member at MDA, was the chief engineer for the Phoenix Meteorological Station project. He joined York’s faculty in January 2010.

“The selection process for missions like New Frontiers is highly competitive,” said Canadian Space Agency president Steve MacLean. “It is a testament to Canadian talent that our industry and academic community are part of all three candidates for the mission. No matter which proposal wins, it is significant that Canada is in a position to play a highly visible and vital role in the final mission.”

The news release from the Canadian Space Agency is available here.