[meteorite-list] Mars Rover's Laser-Zapping Instrument Gets Sharper Vision

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 22 May 2015 16:10:38 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201505222310.t4MNAdNe027277_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Mars Rover's Laser-Zapping Instrument Gets Sharper Vision
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
May 22, 2015

Tests on Mars have confirmed success of a repair to the autonomous focusing
capability of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on NASA's
Curiosity Mars rover.

This instrument provides information about the chemical composition of
targets by zapping them with laser pulses and taking spectrometer readings
of the induced sparks. It also takes detailed images through a telescope.

Work by the instrument's team members at Los Alamos National Laboratory
in New Mexico and in France has yielded an alternative auto-focus method
following loss of use of a small laser that served for focusing the instrument
during Curiosity's first two years on Mars.

"Without this laser rangefinder, the ChemCam instrument was somewhat blind,"
said Roger Wiens, ChemCam principal investigator at Los Alamos. "The main
laser that creates flashes of plasma when it analyzes rocks and soils
up to 25 feet [7.6 meters] from the rover was not affected, but the laser
analyses only work when the telescope projecting the laser light to the
target is in focus."

For the past several months, the team has coped without auto-focusing.
For each target, the instrument has taken multiple images or multiple
laser analyses at different focal distances. The data were sent to Earth
for selection of the in-focus image or laser analysis among the set.

The repair required sending new software to be installed on the instrument.
It now takes multiple images and uses those to autonomously select the
focus positions for the final images and laser analyses sent back to Earth.

"We think we will actually have better quality images and analyses with
this new software than the original," said Wiens.

For more about restoring auto-focus capability to ChemCam, see:


For developing ChemCam, Los Alamos partnered with researchers in France
funded by the French national space agency, including the deputy principal
investigator at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology,
in Toulouse. For more about ChemCam, visit:


NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute
of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for
NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information
about Curiosity, visit:



You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:



Media Contact

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

Received on Fri 22 May 2015 07:10:38 PM PDT

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