Ocean Optics spectrometers aboard NASA Mars rover

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Ocean Optics HR2000 spectrometers are onboard NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, as part of its ChemCam instrument that will study rock and soil samples.

Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity will arrive at the red planet in August 2012. Curiosity is capable of rolling over obstacles up to 65cm high and is expected to travel up to about 200m per day on the Martian terrain.

A laser mounted to the mast unit of Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument can fire at targets up to 9m away. Laser shots fired at the target rock melt it and create a plasma. Light reflected from the plasma is studied using Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy with the Ocean Optics HR2000 spectrometers. Each ChemCam spectrometer is configured to detect elemental signatures over a different wavelength of light: 240-336nm, 380-470nm, and 470-850nm.

This is not the first space voyage for Ocean Optics equipment. In 2009, the company also collaborated on the Alice spectrometer. It detected the presence of water ice on the Moon. Other NASA researchers have used Ocean Optics spectrometers for applications both on Earth and in space.