Future space rovers are gearing up to incorporate lasers for alien terrain exploration.
“We fire a laser at a material of interest, and measure how much its color is changed as it scatters off the surface, to identify the molecules responsible. This is a well-established technique terrestrially—used in all kinds of fields from security to pharmacology to art history—either in labs or using hand-held devices,” says Melissa McHugh of Leicester University in the UK.
The ExoMars, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), will carry laser technology to seek out biomarkers and mineral remnants. NASA also has lasers in mind. Their own 2020 Mars rover will use a similar device for remote sensing of rock outcrops.
Laser research has been useful here on Earth, detecting nuclear materials and dangerous explosives. Particular hardware needs to surround the powerful pulsed lasers, including a synchronized camera responsible for identifying reflected light.
With a few more years of testing ahead, McHugh preps for the comprehensive trials ahead.
“Part of my work involves giving teams a reliable estimate of how well their device would perform in different configurations: what kind of laser, what type of samples, what manner of ambient light conditions? For instance, there’s some indication that rather than requiring sophisticated instruments for remote sensing, there are ways to optimize existing space-qualified CCD cameras to make them suitable,” says McHugh.
In addition to lasers, the ExoMars rover will also sport a heap of specialized components, including a panoramic camera, infrared spectrometer, and ground-penetrating radar.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense