Cool Tech Stuff: Next Mars Rover to Use Laser Spectrometer for ‘Real Time’ Decision-Making

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Cool Tech Stuff: Next Mars Rover to Use Laser Spectrometer for 'Real Time' Decision-Making
Image courtesy of Wired

One of the big problems with remote exploration using automated systems is figuring out what is important and using that information to make decisions that will allow you to alter your collection plans to gain more information during the study.

When sending an automated exploration vehicle to Mars, those problems are amplified enormously – space and power become a huge issue. Look at this example from a new article at PhotonicsOnline:

After NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit examined an outcrop called “Comanche” in 2005, it took years of analyzing indirect evidence before the team could confidently infer the presence of carbon in the rock. A single observation with ChemCam could detect carbon directly.

Imagine that – there was no way to measure something as simple as carbon so it had to be inferred indirectly! In a lab setting that would be trivial … but not on a remote planet. So what is this ChemCam mentioned above? It is a size and power optimized LIBS, or laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy system. Here is an example of such a system:

Cool Tech Stuff: Next Mars Rover to Use Laser Spectrometer for 'Real Time' Decision-Making

Laser light from the 1067nm IR laser pulses hit the sample, and the optical system integrated with the Mars Rover telescope collects the events and the signals are spread across three spectrometer systems and the results reduced for transmission back to scientists.

Here is a specific block diagram of how the ChemCham is planned for implementation.
Cool Tech Stuff: Next Mars Rover to Use Laser Spectrometer for 'Real Time' Decision-Making

For more info you can grab the system overview sheet here.

Of course, the logistics of the system are going to be a tremendous challenge. Great emphasis has been placed on power conservation, meaning that the systems will shut down when not in use. Target selection will require a warm-up period … and every power cycle is an opportunity for failure! It will be amazing to see how this all works!

The ChemCam is planned to travel with the Mars Rover in 2012.

Source: PhotonicsOnline

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!