AVX Tantalum Capacitors Power Curiosity's ChemCam Laser on Mars
News Release from:
08 October 2012
AVX developed and supplied the 630 tantalum multianode capacitors that are responsible for powering the ChemCam laser module on-board Curiosity, which successfully landed on Mars on August 6, 2012.
The ChemCam laser module, a combination of chemistry and camera equipment, is designed to analyze the chemical composition of rocks on Mars.
On August 20th, Curiosity successfully fired its laser for the first time on Mars, interrogating a fist-sized rock called Coronation. The laser on the rover’s ChemCam hit the rock with 30 pulses in a 10-second period, each of which delivered more than one million watts of power for approximately five one-billionths of a second.
The ChemCam’s laser power sources had to meet extreme requirements, including small size, very lightweight packaging, and very high-power performance, and consist solely of well-established, high-reliability components. In cooperation with the Institut de Recherche en Astronomie et Planétologie (IRAP) and the Centre National d' Études Spatiales in Toulouse, France, part of the ChemCam’s U.S.-French design team, AVX’s Tantalum Division in Lanskroun, Czech Republic and Biddeford, Maine, designed a large bank of 630 tantalum multianode capacitors (470µF 10V). Produced in AVX’s European Space Agency-approved manufacturing facility in Lanskroun, Czech Republic and re-tested to MIL standards at AVX’s facilities in Biddeford, Maine, the devices, which were based on proven, high-quality AVX technology, provide very low ESR.
“We are all very excited about the great success of NASA’s latest Mars mission and the ChemCam project, and are delighted to be a part – even if only a small one – of this exciting and historic mission. This is a big step for all of us, and we wish Curiosity the best of luck,” said Tomas Zednicek, Ph.D., technical marketing manager at AVX Tantalum Division, Lanskroun, Czech Republic.
The ChemCam’s laser, imager, and telescope can be pointed at rock and soil targets in the vicinity of the rover from its position on top of the mast, which is 6.6 feet (2 meters) above the ground. Laser pulses vaporize pinhead-size targets up to 32 feet (7 meters) away, producing a flash of light that is observed by the telescope as the material is ionized by the laser. An optical fiber from the mast delivers the telescope’s observation to the 7.9-inch (20 centimetre) long body unit, which analyses the light from the ionized material in order to identify the chemical composition of the target.
ChemCam was conceived, designed, and built by a joint U.S.-French team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; and the IRAP and CNES in Toulouse, France. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.
Researchers will use the tools on-board Curiosity to study whether the landing region has ever experienced environmental conditions favourable for supporting microbial life, as well as whether environmental conditions since then enabled the preservation of clues about whether or not life existed there.