Mars Rover Laser Tool Ready for Testing

Jun 22, 2007
'Scarecrow' Mars Science Laboratory
This engineering model of Mars Science Laboratory was dubbed "Scarecrow" by the mobility team, because it is still without a brain like the famous scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz." Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars mission Job One: Get there. Job Two: Find rocks and zap them with your laser tool. Now learn the nature of the debris by spectrographically analyzing the ensuing dust and fragments. It’s every kid’s dream, vaporizing pebbles on other planets, and thanks to a team at Los Alamos National Laboratory, it’s going to happen.

When the JPL-NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover launches in 2009, it will carry this combination laser-telescope unit and enable the gadget-packed rover to know a great deal about rocks in its general vicinity. The ChemCam package includes a mast unit, projecting above the rover with a laser and telescope, and a body unit, the brains of the beast, with three spectrographs and the instrument controls.

The engineering model of ChemCam’s mast unit, fresh from Thales Laser and Centre d’Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements (CESR) in France, is undergoing rigorous testing at Los Alamos. A team of six French experts is checking out the mast unit this week and making sure that it is properly connected with the rest of the instrument, built at Los Alamos. This fall the entire instrument will be shipped to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where more tests will take place and additional equipment will be added.

“We’re pioneering a new technique for exploring Mars. It’s really exciting to see the whole thing come together,” said Roger Wiens, project lead and a Los Alamos scientist.

The ChemCam laser emits very short pulses of 7 nanoseconds, through a small telescope that focuses the beam to a spot where the power density exceeds 10 megawatts per square millimeter, producing a plasma of vaporized material from the target rock. The unit operates on targets at distances between 4 and 30 feet. The unit also contains a camera to take extreme close-up pictures of the targets to show geologic context for each sample. The telescope and electronics were built by CESR, a research institute in Toulouse, France. The mast unit was funded by CNES, the French Space Agency. The full ChemCam flight model will be delivered to JPL in Spring of 2008.

Scheduled to launch in the fall of 2009, Mars Science Laboratory is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Mars Science Laboratory is a rover that will assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s habitability.

Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Explore further: NASA engineer advances new daytime star tracker

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

First X-ray diffraction measurements on Mars

Dec 08, 2014

In 2012 the Mars Science Laboratory landed in the fascinating Gale crater. The Gale crater is of such great interest because of the 5.5 km high mountain of layered materials in the middle. This material tells ...

Time in space exposes materials to the test of time

Nov 24, 2014

Much like that pickup truck rusting in your backyard thanks to time, rain and the elements, extended stays in the brutal environment of space can take its toll on spacecraft, satellites and space stations. ...

Recommended for you

NASA engineer advances new daytime star tracker

1 hour ago

Scientists who use high-altitude scientific balloons have high hopes for their instruments in the future. Although the floating behemoths that carry their instruments far into the stratosphere can stay aloft ...

Image: Sounding rockets launch into an aurora

2 hours ago

The interaction of solar winds and Earth's atmosphere produces northern lights, or auroras, that dance across the night sky and mesmerize the casual observer. However, to scientists this interaction is more ...

Gully patterns document Martian climate cycles

2 hours ago

Geologists from Brown University have found new evidence that glacier-like ice deposits advanced and retreated multiple times in the midlatitude regions of Mars in the relatively recent past.

Europe to resume satnav launches in March: Arianespace

2 hours ago

Europe in March will resume satellite launches for its troubled Galileo navigation system, hoping to boost by at least six the number of orbiters this year, Arianespace and the European Commission said Wednesday.

The two faces of Mars

5 hours ago

A moon-sized celestial object that crashed into the south pole: ETH researchers use a simulation to demonstrate why Mars consists of two notably different hemispheres.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.