The SuperCAM instrument selected by NASA for the MARS 2020 mission

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NASA, the United States Space Agency, announced on July 31 the selection of SuperCam among the scientific instruments that will equip the vehicle of the Mars 2020 mission, whose design is similar to the rover Curiosity, with the ChemCam instrument currently operating at the surface of Mars.

This new SuperCam instrument  is the result of close scientific collaboration between the team of Dr. Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory (Los Alamos, USA) and that of Dr. Sylvestre Maurice of the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP, Toulouse, France), with a contribution of the team of Pr. Fernando Rull from Universita de Valladolid (Valladolid, Spain).

Under the project management of the CNES, the French contribution returns to IRAP (CNRS, Université Toulouse III Paul Sabatier), responsible for the design and fabrication of SuperCam, to which are associated several other French laboratories *.

The instrument will be delivered in December 2018 to the “Jet Propulsion Laboratory” (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which will install it on the vehicle of a design similar to the rover Curiosity. It follows the cooperation between the JPL and the CNES which led to the construction of the ChemCam instrument operating at the surface of Mars aboard Curiosity for two years now. The Mars 2020 mission will be launched in July 2020 and will land on Mars in February 2021. Operations are expected to last until August 2023.

SuperCam is a tool for planetary science, placed on the mast of the rover to remotely analyze the chemistry of rocks on Mars. It combines several complementary subsets:

  • An analyzer of the elementary composition of Martian targets by laser ablation and optical spectroscopy (LIBS)
  • Infrared and Raman spectrometers to identify the mineral phases and the presence of organic matter as appropriate.
  • A color camera to collect images at high definition to know the texture of the rock and the context in which the spectrometric analyzes are performed.

SuperCam capabilities make it an essential tool to study the geological diversity of the Martian surface and highlight if any, the “biosignatures”, traces of past life on the surface of Mars.

Finally, the vehicle will be equipped with a system for collecting and preserving Mars samples (function “caching”). SuperCam will also be one of the key instruments used to characterize and select those samples. The container (“cache”) where they will be placed could be recovered in future missions and returned to Earth.

French laboratories involved in the SuperCam project

  • Observatoire de Midi-Pyrénées (Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier / CNRS / CNES / IRD / Météo France)
  • Institut de recherche en astrophysique et planétologie (CNRS / Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier)
  • Laboratoire d’études spatiales et d’instrumentation en astrophysique (CNRS / Observatoire de Paris / UPMC / Université Paris-Diderot)
  • Laboratoire d’astrophysique de Bordeaux (CNRS/Université de Bordeaux)
  • Laboratoire atmosphères, milieux, observations spatiales (CNRS / UVSQ)
  • Institut d’astrophysique spatiale (CNRS/Université Paris Sud)
  • Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (CNRS / Université Joseph Fourier)
  • Institut des sciences de la Terre (CNRS / Université de Savoie / Université Joseph Fourier / IRD / IFSTTAR)
  • Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA)
  • Institut de minéralogie, de physique des matériaux et de cosmochimie (CNRS/ Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle/UPMC/IRD)
  • Laboratoire de planétologie et de géodynamique de Nantes (CNRS / Université de Nantes / Université Angers)
  • Laboratoire de géologie de Lyon, Terre, planètes, environnement (CNRS / Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 / ENS Lyon)
  • Laboratoire Ondes et Matière d’Aquitaine (CNRS / Université de Bordeaux)
  • Laboratoire GeoRessources (Université de Lorraine / CNRS / CREGU)

Source :

IRAP Contact :

  • Sylvestre Maurice, sylvestre.maurice@irap.omp.eu

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