Imaging system to roam Mars

MAY 14--Equinox Interscience Inc. (Golden, CO; eisci.com/mica) has received a $1.3 million contract from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop a mineral identification and composition analyzer for use on future Mars missions.

MAY 14--Equinox Interscience Inc. (Golden, CO; eisci.com/mica) has received a $1.3 million contract from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop a mineral identification and composition analyzer (MICA) for use on future Mars missions. The MICA will combine multiple optical and x-ray imaging techniques to determine the mineralogical nature of Martian rocks, sand, and dust. The objective of the MICA project is to demonstrate how optical imaging combined with x-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence techniques can facilitate rapid geological reconnaissance of Martian surface materials.

"MICA enhances the ability to conduct rapid surveys because it performs its analysis entirely by observation without having to handle, process, or disturb the surface materials," states Russ Mellon, president of Equinox. "The only requirement is that the instrument be able to observe the sample in close proximity. With MICA we are able to examine both granular materials such as dust and sand as well as solid surfaces of rock or ice," says Mellon.

Unlike earlier techniques, MICA has the advantage that it does not require complex, energy-consuming, high-risk sample-preparation techniques involving the destructive conversion of the sample into a powder. MICA will automatically perform nondestructive in situ analyses to quickly determine the mineralogical nature of samples, including their appearance, crystalline structure, and elemental composition.

MICA can be mounted on the robotic arm of a lander or rover vehicle and analyze samples anywhere within reach by positioning the instrument over the sample. "MICA contributes to risk reduction for robotic surface operations," says Dan Scheld, vice president of engineering at Equinox. "MICA can still perform analysis in the worst case where a rover might be disabled or unable to navigate, since anything within arms reach is still a viable target for analysis."

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