Jul 21, 2019 | Updated: 08:54 AM EDT

The SuperCam is Mars 2020 Rover's Shiny New Accessory

Jul 13, 2019 06:43 AM EDT

PIA22103: Cameras on Mars 2020 Rover
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech)
PIA22103: Cameras on Mars 2020 Rover

Just recently, the Mars 2020 Rover has reached another milestone. Technicians for the said spacecraft has successfully installed a mast which they called the SuperCam Mast Unit. Ticking off the checklist for the accessories for the rover, technicians have previously installed wheels and a robotic arm.

As part of the mast unit, a camera, laser, and spectrometers were installed for the rover. This is the central spire coming out of the middle of the rover where instruments that require a longer view will be mounted. According to the engineers, the cameras and other instruments included in the mast installation are so accurate that the said accessories could identify the chemical and mineral make up of the environmental targets even from a distance. They added that the rover accessories can even identify a target as small as a pencil point from six meters away.

Soren Madsen, the payload development manager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) explained that SuperCam's rock-zapping laser allows scientists to analyze the chemical composition of the target items. Madsen added that the newly installed accessories let the Mars 2020 rover conduct cutting edge science from a distance.

This is not the first time that such an accessory has been installed on a spacecraft. In fact, the suite of instruments can be compared to the ChemCam which is aboard the curiosity rover. The ChemCam is used to capture images and examine objects from the Martian surface which includes rocks and other samples. In contrast, the new SuperCam will perform the same task analyzing rocks and soil, with an additional task, in particular, searching for organic compounds. The process that SuperCam does can be used to prove or disprove theories saying that life on Mars could be supported. 

The success of SuperCam is credited to the contributions from different nations including France, Spain, and the US. The last piece of hardware was completed in France and later shipped to JPL's facility in California where it was assembled.

Sylvestre Maurice, the deputy principal investigator for the SuperCam from the Institut de Recherche en astrophysique et planétologie in Toulouse, France fondly reminisced when SuperCam was formerly a bold and ambitious idea and is now an actual instrument. Maurice added that even if SuperCam has already come a long way, there is yet more to be done. Maurice later said that this advancement is not only for the improvement of SuperCam but also for the success of the amazing consortium that worked on the project together.

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