Infrared spectrometer sent into space to analyse asteroid

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An infrared spectrometer has been sent into space as part of a new mission to analyse an asteroid approaching Earth. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) funded Hayabusa-2 explorer was launched on 3 December with the aim to collect geological samples from the asteroid, helping scientists to gain an understanding of how the solar system was formed as well as how the primary organic materials of life on the Earth were composed.

To learn more about the origin and evolution of the solar system, it is important to investigate different types of asteroids. A C-type asteroid, which is a target of Hayabusa-2, is considered to contain more organic or hydrated minerals than other kinds.

As minerals and seawater which form the Earth are believed to be strongly connected in the primitive solar nebula in the early solar system, JAXA expects to clarify the origin of life by analysing samples acquired from a primordial C-type asteroid to study organic matter and water in the solar system. 

The micrOmega infrared spectrometer is on board a so-called MASCOT − Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout − which will be deployed form the main spacecraft once it is close enough to the asteroid. It will land inside of a crater in order for it to make direct measurements on the asteroid surface.

The spectrometer contains acousto-optic tunable filters (AOTFs), produced by Gooch & Housego, which will enable the spectral analysis of the surface material of the asteroid which in turn will determine its composition. It scans across the infrared spectrum from 0.95µm to 3.65µm and produces a full three-dimensional image data-cube with 365 spectral channels.

Rigorous quality-control procedures are essential for the development and manufacture components and assemblies destined to operate in a space environment. In this instance, the need was for controlled solid-state components that were rugged with no moving-parts, and were compatible with operation in a vacuum whilst surviving and operating in an extended temperature range.

According to G&H, its expertise in supplying components for the aerospace and defence industries, including acousto-optic, electro-optic, fibre-optic and precision parts, helped the company fulfil the stringent requirements for this project.

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