SuperCam for Scientists

SuperCam is a remote-sensing instrument for the Mars 2020 mission that uses remote optical measurements and laser spectroscopy to determine fine-scale mineralogy, chemistry, and atomic and molecular composition of samples encountered on Mars.

An artist's rendering of the SuperCam instrument aboard the next generation Mars rover scheduled to visit the Red Planet in 2020.
Artistic Representation of the Instrument during operation aboard the Mars 2020 Rover. Credit: NASA
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To enable these measurements, SuperCam is, in fact, many instruments in one.

  • For measurements of chemical elements, it integrates the remote Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) capabilities of the highly successful ChemCam instrument included in the payload of the Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars. LIBS uses a 1064-nm laser to investigate targets up to 7 meters (about 23 feet) distance from the rover.

  • In addition, SuperCam also performs Raman spectroscopy (at 532 nm to investigate targets up to 12 m distance from the rover), Time-Resolved Fluorescence (TRF) spectroscopy, Visible and InfraRed (VISIR) reflectance spectroscopy (400 - 900 nm, 1.3 - 2.6 ┬Ám) at a distance in order to provide information about the mineralogy and molecular structure of samples under consideration, as well as being able to search directly for materials.

  • SuperCam uses its microphone to study wind and turbulence in Mars' thin atmosphere. It uses the laser zap sounds and the Ingenuity helicopter to study how sound is transmitted in this alien atmosphere. SuperCam also uses the sound of the laser plasma on the rocks to determine their hardness and detect surface coatings.

  • Finally, SuperCam also acquires high-resolution images of samples under study using a color remote micro-imager (RMI). The collection of data provided by this suite of correlated measurements on a sample can be used to determine directly the geochemistry and mineralogy of samples.

SuperCam measurements can be rapidly acquired without the need to position the rover or rover arm upon the target, facilitating rapid and efficient measurements during Mars operations. As demonstrated by ChemCam, the SuperCam laser can be used to "blast off" dust from surfaces at a distance in order to get a better look at solid surfaces on Mars, without having to drive up to samples and perform manipulations with the rover arm or associated tools.

SuperCam is a continuing effort between Los Alamos and the French Space Agency (CNES), with strong involvement by universities in the U.S., France, Spain, Canada, Denmark, and Germany.