New Mars Rover Gets Laser Weapons
Well, not quite, but at least Martian rocks will get their brains zapped when the next Mars mission lands on Earth's closest sibling. Set to depart our planet next year, with a planned arrival date sometime in 2012, the new generation Mars Rover will be equipped with lasers, to give it a better understanding of, well, rocks.
NASA announced last week that the Rover will be equipped with a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) tool, which will allow it to shoot laser beams at rocks. By doing so, the Rover can excite a pinhead-size spot into a glowing, ionized gas. That spot is then analyzed to identify the chemical elements in the target.
According to NASA, the ChemCam is capable of shooting multiple targets the same day. Most importantly, it can analyze parts of the Martian soil the Rover is otherwise unable to reach, due to either the shape of the terrain or the limitations of the vehicle. The system, fitted on the Rover called Curiosity, is currently being tested in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Currently, the Martial roads are being occupied by only two vehicles, the Spirit (MER-A) and Opportunity (MER-B), both launched in 2003. The Rovers currently on mission are six-wheeler, solar powered vehicles.
They weigh 180 kg and stand at 1.5 m high, 2.3 m wide and 1.6 m long and are fitted with a rocker-bogie suspension system which allows each of the rover's wheels to remain attached to the ground, regardless of the type of terrain.
The top speed of the vehicles is 50 mm/second (0.18 km/h). Comparing that with the cost of the Rovers, these two vehicles are the single slowest, most expensive self-propelled machines ever made by man.