SUPERCAM: MARS 2020
Context: As part of its mission to Mars this summer, National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) has planned to send a new laser-toting robot as one of seven instruments aboard the Mars 2020 rover.
- The robot, known as SuperCam, is used for studying mineralogy and chemistry from up to about 7 metres away. It might help scientists find signs of fossilised microbial life on Mars.
- SuperCam has an ability to fire a laser to study rock targets smaller than a pencil point from more than 7 m away. This laser lets the rover study spots it can’t reach with its arm.
- SuperCam basically looks at rock textures and chemicals to find those that formed or changed in water on Mars long ago.
- SuperCam looks at different rock and “soil” types to find ones that could preserve signs of past microbial life on Mars — if any ever existed.
- For the benefit of future explorers, SuperCam identifies which elements in the Martian dust may be harmful to humans.
- Scientists can also learn about how atmospheric molecules, water ice, and dust absorb or reflect solar radiation. This helps in better understanding and prediction of the Martian weather.
- SuperCam includes in it a microphone so that scientists can listen each time the laser hits a target. The popping sound created by the laser subtly changes depending on a rock’s material properties.
- The Mars 2020 rover marks the 3rd time this particular microphone design will go to the Red Planet.
- It’s an improved version of the ChemCam laser on Mars rover Curiosity: Supercam can additionally analyze minerals and molecules, and take color instead of only black-and-white pictures.
ABOUT MARS 2020 ROVER MISSION
The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The Mars 2020 mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars.
The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars.
The mission is timed for a launch opportunity in July 2020 when Earth and Mars are in good positions relative to each other for landing on Mars i.e., it takes less power to travel to Mars at this time, compared to other times when Earth and Mars are in different positions in their orbits.
To keep mission costs and risks as low as possible, the Mars 2020 design is based on NASA’s successful Mars Science Laboratory mission architecture, including its Curiosity rover and proven landing system.
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