13 Jan 2020
Solid-state laser head emits in the UV spectral range at 266 nm to convert Martian soil into gas phase for analysis.Mars Organic Molecule Analyser (MOMA) laser, developed by Laser Zentrum Hannover (LZH), Germany, was switched on for its last test in a space tech laboratory in France. The next time the MOMA laser operates as intended will be on Mars. The ExoMars rover into which the laser is integrated has now successfully passed the thermal vacuum tests at Airbus in Toulouse.
For 18 days the ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin was subjected to thermal vacuum tests at Airbus. There, it had to withstand strong changes in temperature and vacuum; the tests at Airbus imitate the conditions on Mars and simulate two hot and two cold Mars days. These so-called sols last approximately 24 hours.
Searching for evidence of life
The LZH laser is a central component of the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) measuring instrument, which is installed in the rover's Analytical Lab Drawer (ALD). The MOMA laser is supposed to bring soil samples into gas phase on Mars. The probe will then be analyzed with a mass spectrometer to examine the sample’s molecular composition. If the rover were to find organic molecules, it could be an indication of past life on Mars.
The solid-state laser head is diode-pumped and emits in the UV spectral range with a wavelength of 266 nm. It is the first laser for space applications with this UV wavelength. It has an adjustable laser pulse energy of up to 130 µJ. Its special properties are however weight, size and above all its robustness. With a length of about 20 cm, it only weighs about 220 g.
Having successfully past the tests, the rover will now be integrated into the landing module of the overall system. For this purpose, it will travel to Cannes in the next few weeks. Its last stop on Earth is Baikonur in Kazakhstan, from where the ExoMars mission will start probably in July or August next year.
Additionally, the LZH has recently delivered the flight spare model of the laser to NASA, where it is currently being built into the flight spare model of the MOMA instrument. These models serve to simulate and correct possible errors on Earth.
ExoMars is an astrobiology project of the European Space Agency ESA in cooperation with the Russian space agency Roskosmos with the participation of NASA. The laser development is funded by the space agency of the German Aerospace Center with funds from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology based on a decision of the German Government.