NASA will be sending a robotic rover to Mars in their Mars 2020 mission to find signs of life on red planet. The chemicals present on the surface of the Mars which provides a clue that life once existed on the planet, are detected using a particular instrument named SHERLOC.
A new calibration instrument is built at Johnson Space Center (JSC) of NASA by the division of Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) to check for the proper functioning of SHERLOC and for tuning it during the mission. The Mars 2020 co-investigator and planetary scientist at ARES, Marc Fries said that SHERLOC was very complicated and 11 things were listed by them all of which had to be calibrated on the instrument. Numerous other engineering and scientific investigations will also be using this sophisticated device.
The robotic arm of the rover which is about seven-foot is mounted at the end by SHERLOC and it also includes a camera, laser as well as chemical analyzers which are known as spectrometers. A scientist from Jacobs, Trevor Graff said that the scientific instruments of the rover passes through very tough conditions throughout their journey from the lab till their arrival on the Mars surface and it was important to make sure that they provide the expected operation throughout the completion of the mission. The solution to this was the creation of calibration target. It is mounted on the rover’s front and is of the size of a big smartphone. It contained 10 targets which had samples of various materials.
Fries said that they also had plans of building a Mars exposure device for matching the conditions within it to the rover’s weather data. One of the other targets consists of a meteorite sample which was ejected from the red planet years back and was discovered in 1999 on earth. The rock sample would be closely watched to see the alteration caused by the Martian environment over time and this in turn will enable them to study about the chemical interactions taking place between the planet’s atmosphere and its surface.