DUNEDIN, Fla., 12 Dec. 2011. Three customized Ocean Optics instruments have begun an eight-month journey to Mars as part of the ChemCam unit on NASA’s Mars Science Lab rover, Curiosity. Ocean Optics engineers supplied three modular HR2000 high-resolution, miniature, fiber-optic spectrometers configured to analyze Martian rock and soil composition using Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS). A laser mounted to the mast unit of the ChemCam instrument can fire at targets up to nine meters away, generating a series of laser pulses, the light from which is collected for the LIBS analysis.
The modular design of the HR2000, having selectable optical bench options (detector, grating, and entrance aperture), made it well suited for the mission. Each ChemCam spectrometer is configured to detect elemental signatures over a different wavelength of light: 240-336 nm, 380-470 nm, and 470-850 nm.
Reliability also played a role in the decision to adopt the Ocean Optics instruments, says a representative. Reliability is a must for remote space operation, where maintenance is impossible. Because the spectrometer contains no moving parts to fail, it can withstand the G forces associated with space travel. Additionally, the spectrometers were modified to handle extreme temperature ranges, radiation, and shock and vibration.