NASA’s SuperCam: An instrument that will help find suitable environment on Mars
It can detect changes in rock textures and chemicals that might have occurred due to presence of water, thus providing information about existence of water.
NASA will send Mars 2020 rover to Mars in July 2020. It is expected to land on Mars on February 18 2021. This mission also comes under a plan to prepare humans for Mars exploration. A sustained human presence on Moon is expected to happen around 2028 with the help of Artemis lunar exploration mission.
With only a year left for the Mars 2020 launch, scientists are giving final touches to the rover. A new instrument called SuperCam has been installed on the rover. This instrument has been built jointly by the US, France and Spain. France recently delivered the last piece of the hardware and the instrument was installed on the Mars 2020 rover on June 25. Jet Propulsion Laboratory is building the Mars 2020 rover and will also manage its operation.
What is the use of SuperCam?
The instrument that also includes camera, laser and spectrometer can identify chemical and mineral makeup (also atomic and molecular makeup). It's precise enough to observe a target as small as a pencil point from a distance of more than 20 feet (6 meters).
1. Scanning Martian rock and soil will provide information about the organic compounds found on Mars. These organic compounds could help scientists know about history of life on Mars.
2. SuperCam will identify the presence of elements that might be harmful for humans.
3. It can detect changes in rock textures and chemicals that might have occurred due to presence of water, thus providing information about existence of water.
4. The SuperCam will also look at different rock and "soil" types to detect the sign of microbial life on Mars.
5. It will also observe how atmospheric molecules, water ice and dust absorb or reflect solar radiation. Data from this observation will help predict Martian weather.
"SuperCam's rock-zapping laser allows scientists to analyze the chemical composition of its targets," said Soren Madsen, the payload development manager at JPL. "It lets the Mars 2020 rover conduct its cutting-edge science from a distance."
Where was SuperCam developed?
The development of the instrument was led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The lab developed the Body unit that includes spectrometers, control electronics and software. The Mast was built with the help of four academic laboratories in France. These laboratories were helped/led by French space agency Centre National d'Études Spatiales.
The Mast includes high-powered laser, a telescope, a camera, an infrared spectrometer and a microphone. Calibration targets on the rover deck are provided by Spain's University of Valladolid.
More facts about SuperCam:
There is another instrument called Sample Caching System that will be installed on the Mars 2020 rover in a few weeks. This system includes 17 motors. It is expected to collect samples of Martian rock and soil. This collected sample will be sent to Earth via a future mission.
This is not the first time that scientists are developing such an instrument. An older version of SuperCam, called ChemCam, is functional on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.