Thales Laser on the Mars 2020 mission: Three days until landing

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  • On February 18, when the rover Perseverance lands on Mars, Thales’ laser enters service as part of the SuperCam, the rover’s’ eyes’, to determine the chemical and organic composition of Martian rock samples.
  • Thales ’laser at the heart of the SuperCam instrument, which is even more powerful than the laser that has been operating in the Curiosity mission for the past eight years, will help look for potential signs of life on the Red Planet.

PARIS LA DÉFENSE – On February 18, the rover Perseverance – a key component of the Mars 2020 mission – will crash on the Red Planet after a long seven-month journey. SuperCam, one of seven strategic embedded instruments, is a powerful combination of technologies designed to analyze, characterize, and select Martian rock samples. SuperCam is the result of close collaboration between Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the United States and the Research Institute of Astrophysics and Planetology in France (IRAP, CNRS / CNES / Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier), with contributions from the University of Hawaii and the University of Valladolid in Spain. The Mast unit, the French part of the SuperCam located at the top of the rover’s mast, was designed and built by a consortium of French laboratories1 from CNRS, universities and entities under the scientific guidance of the IRAP team and under the responsibility of CNES, the French space agency. The laser delivered by Thales is a key part Mast unit.

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In 2012, Curiosity landed on Mars equipped with the first high-power laser to work on the surface of another planet, a laser designed and developed by Thales for the ChemCam instrument. The ChemCam laser has been operating flawlessly for more than eight years and to date has fired close to 855,000 shots, while Curiosity has traveled 24 kilometers across the surface of the Red Planet. ChemCam data has already helped prove that conditions on Mars were once conducive to microbial life.

The SuperCam instrument, a new and more powerful version of ChemCam, is designed to take Mars exploration to the next level. Like ChemCam, the SuperCam laser will use infrared beam to heat the material to a temperature of about 10,000 ° C and evaporate it – a method called laser-induced penetration spectroscopy. Together with a special camera, this makes it possible to determine the chemical composition of Martian rock samples by measuring the colors of light in the plasma created.

Unlike ChemCam, however, the SuperCam laser can also emit a green laser beam, which will help determine the molecular composition of surface materials. This green beam excites the chemical bonds in the samples and produces a different signal according to their different connected components. This analysis technique, known as Raman spectroscopy, will be tested for the first time on Mars and will allow scientists to detect any markers of life. The green laser will also be used to induce fluorescence in mineral and organic compounds, allowing scientists to determine their constituent components with greater accuracy.

“We are proud to have given NASA the first two lasers to work on Mars. The Mars 2020 mission is a decisive step forward in studying the Red Planet and preparing for future expeditions. SuperCam, the ‘eyes’ of perseverance, is the result of close collaboration between partners across the international scientific community. Thales ’SuperCam laser delivers unsurpassed performance and will allow Perseverance to carry out its research mission all the time on the surface of Mars. “Christophe Salomon, Executive Vice President, Land and Air Systems

About Mars 2020

The goal of the Mars 2020 mission is to study the surface of the Red Planet, look for signs of past life, take samples of stones and dust at selected locations and store them for future retrieval. Return of the Mars sample (MSR) mission, to be conducted in conjunction with the European Space Agency. Thales Alenia Space is closely involved in the MSR mission.

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The Mars 2020 mission is designed to gather the necessary knowledge and test technologies that will be crucial for future human expeditions to the Red Planet.

How to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere? What resources are available? Is there water below the surface, for example? How to improve landing techniques and characterize weather conditions, dust levels, and other environmental conditions that could affect the lives and work of future astronauts on Mars? These are just some of the questions that the Perseverance Mission will seek to answer.

About Thales lasers

For more than 35 years, Thales has been a world leader in the design, development and production of high-energy nanosecond lasers for industrial applications and the most powerful ultrashort Ti: With femtosecond laser systems for leading scientific applications with peak power of up to 10 petawatts.

Thales offers the most reliable and simple products, a unique combination of technological expertise and robustness for introduction into industrial applications that require the highest availability such as laser annealing, laser lifting, laser shock and composite cutting for various industries such as aerospace, microelectronics, flat panel displays and many others. Thales also provides a full range of services that are optimized to support each customer.

About Thales

Thales (Euronext Paris: HO) is the global technology leader that is shaping the world of tomorrow today. The Group provides solutions, services and products to customers in the aeronautics, space, transportation, digital identity and security and defense markets. With 83,000 employees in 68 countries, Thales had sales of € 19 billion in 2019 (on a pro forma basis, including Gemalto over 12 months). Thales is particularly investing in digital innovation – connectivity, big data, artificial intelligence and cyber security – technologies that support businesses, organizations and governments in their critical moments.


Thales Group

[1] The Irap; Laboratory of Spatial Studies and Astrophysical Instrumentation (LESIA, Paris Observatory-PSL / CNRS / SU / University of Paris); Bordeaux Astrophysics Laboratory (LAB, CNRS / University of Bordeaux); Atmospheric and Spatiales Laboratory (LATMOS, CNRS / SU / UVSQ); The Mid-Pyrenees Observatory (OMP, CNRS / IRD / Meteo-France / Université de Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier); Institut d’astrophysique spatiale (IAS, CNRS / Université Paris-Saclay).

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Thales, Media Relations
Group and innovation
Alice Pruvot
+33 (0) 7 70 27 11 37
[email protected]

Thales Alenia Space, Media Relations
Sandrine Bielecki
+33 (0) 4 92 92 70 94
[email protected]