Thematic group : PEPS
Scientific leader : Olivier Gasnault
OSU Principal : Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, developed by Caltech/JPL, delivered the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars in August 2012. Onboard, the Franco-American ChemCam instrument determines at remote distances the elemental composition of Mars rocks and soils of Mars using Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS).
The rover mission is to study the habitability of Mars, the geology of the landing site (Gale crater), the water and climate history of this region and finally, the radiation level for future manned missions. Since 2012, the ChemCam instrument has been activated more than 750,000 times, each time resulting in a composition spectrum. It measures every day the composition of a new rock on Mars. Curiosity characterize the fluvial, lacustrine, or aeolian sedimentary deposits in Gale crater, and ChemCam plays a key role in the geochemical analyses.
ChemCam is operated on a daily basis. The French team participates to the project science operations lead by JPL. IRAP and CNES follow ChemCam activities, alternating with LANL.


The “Service d’Observation” ChemCam is in charge of animating the community around the ChemCam data, making data available on the PDS, participating in daily operations, and enhancing the science return of ChemCam data. ChemCam is sensitive to the following chemical elements: SiO2, TiO2, Al2O3, FeOT, MgO, CaO, Na2O, K2O, H, C, O, P, S, Li, Rb, Sr, Ba, Cr, Mn, Ni, et Zn. The instrument is also equipped with a high-resolution camera.
This instrument is at the intersection of the concerns of the CNAP Astronomy division, Section 17 and Section 18 of the CNRS.

Involvement of IRAP

The ChemCam instrument was developed jointly by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL, Los Alamos, NM) and laboratories of CNRS and Universities, under the supervision of IRAP. LANL and IRAP have the scientific responsibility for ChemCam. Olivier Gasnault is deputy-PI of ChemCam since Nov. 2012 (formerly Sylvestre Maurice).


This project is a NASA-CNES bilateral collaboration. CNES is the contracting authority of the French contribution to ChemCam. The participation of 24 French scientists is supported by the different sponsors of their laboratories (CNRS, Universities of Toulouse, Bordeaux, Paris, Lorraine, and Lyon).