B.C. Firm to Build Asteroid-Fighting Laser

MDA | BCBusiness

While perhaps lower stakes than the plot of Armageddon, the technology will forward our understanding of asteroids and the threat they pose to Earth

Richmond-based aerospace firm McDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) has inked a contract to build a high-tech laser for a NASA-led mission to study—and eventually land on—an extra-orbital asteroid, set to launch in 2016.
The laser-based instrument will be used for the six-month task of mapping the surface of Bennu, a 500-metre-wide asteroid that has the potential to impact earth in the late 2100s.
MDA’s participation in builds on expertise acquired from designing parts for the Mars Lander and other past projects with NASA and the U.S. Airforce’s research lab, said Craig Thornton, general manager for robotics and automation at MDA, in a press release.
The mission will help scientists better understand how our solar system was formed and how it has changed from its earliest beginnings—in addition to comprehending the threat asteroids pose to the planet.
“It gives us a window of opportunity to look back to the beginnings of the solar system and see what some of the primitive building blocks were as the planets came together and the asteroids were left over,” explains Joe Villinga, spacecraft program manager at Lockheed Martin, in the video below; Lockheed Martin is also building components for the mission.
In building laser optics hardware for NASA’s asteroid research program, MDA’s endeavor fits into the Canadian Space Agency’s broader strategy of having Canadian researchers and companies focus on specific industrial applications used by larger agencies.

The contract comes a few days after MDA signed an agreement to acquire an unnamed U.S.-based radar company for $40 million. MDA, which develops and builds parts and software for communication satellites and antenna subsystems, does a lot of work with companies and agencies in the national security and surveillance sectors, which might explain some of the anonymity around Tuesday’s deal.