A new incarnation of the ChemCam spectroscopy system that has been exploring Martian rocks aboard the Curiosity Rover will be headed to the Red Planet as part of NASA's Mars 2020 mission. SuperCam builds upon the capabilities demonstrated aboard the Curiosity and will allow researchers to sample rocks and other targets from a distance using ChemCam's Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) technology.
SuperCam adds another spectrum to its laser for Raman and time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy. It also will add color to its high-resolution visible imaging capability as well as visible and infrared spectroscopy. The updates enable SuperCam to provide fine-scale mineralogy, chemistry, organic detection, and color images, with the added bonus of being able to dust off a surface via laser blasts.
“We are extremely excited to be going to Mars again,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) planetary scientist Roger Wiens, Principal Investigator of the newly selected SuperCam team and current principal investigator of the Curiosity Rover’s ChemCam Team. “More importantly for the mission, I know SuperCam is the very best remote sensor that NASA can have aboard.”
In addition, LANL will build the detector electronics for the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument. SHERLOC is a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and use an ultraviolet laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. It will be the first ultraviolet Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload.
SuperCam is a continuing effort between LANL and the IRAP research institution in Toulouse, France, and the French Space Agency (CNES), with additional collaboration from the University of Hawaii and the University of Valladolid (UVA) in Spain. According to NASA, agency managers made the instrument selections for the upcoming mission out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide.
The Mars 2020 mission is intended to advance knowledge of how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the planet. Designers of future human expeditions can use this mission to understand the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate technology to process carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen.