Monday, October 11, 2010
Mobile Mars Lab Almost Ready for Curiosity Rover
The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite has completed assembly at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and is nearly ready for a December delivery to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., where it will be installed into the Curiosity rover.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission will use SAM and other instruments on Curiosity to examine whether an intriguing area of Mars has had environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and favorable for preserving evidence of life, if it existed. Launch is scheduled for late 2011, with landing in August 2012.
SAM will explore molecular and elemental chemistry relevant to life. It will analyze samples of Martian rock and soil to assess carbon chemistry through a search for organic compounds, and to look for clues about planetary change.
SAM is in flight configuration, meaning its instruments are in the condition they will be in during launch and are ready to begin operations on Mars. The instrument suite (a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph and tunable laser spectrometer) started final environmental testing this week, which includes vibration and thermal testing to ensure SAM can survive the launch, deep space flight and conditions on Mars.