Everyone has seen the most recent Mars landing by NASA rover, Mars Curiosity, but the scientific effort has been an international one. In addition to outsourcing the launch to the United Launch Alliance’s (a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin) Atlas 5 launch vehicle, some of the instruments are sourced by NASA partners.
Two instruments (out of twelve), ChemCam and SAM, are wholly French made.
About the ChemCam
The ChemCam (short for Chemistry and Camera complex) is actually a bunch of technology, including a laser that can vaporize rocks that are up to 7 meters away, and then collect the spectrum of light in order to analyze its contents. The type of laser that is used for that, an1067 nm infrared laser, is built by french company Thales, which is the only company that has experience with this type of laser in interplanetary probes.
About the SAM
The SAM (Sample analysis at Mars) allows the rover to take a rock sample, and analyze it inside of the rover itself. Central to that is the french-built gas chromatography device.
Both instruments are controlled out of Toulouse’s Cité de l’Espace. The mission is meant to last at least four years, and the goal is to find evidence of part life on Mars. Current life would be a major bonus, of course.
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