Feeds

Revealed: Full specs on Mars rover's nuclear laser heat ray

Megawatt beam to disintegrate the red planet's pinheads

Top three mobile application threats

The Register rayguns desk is pleased to report that we have now obtained full specifications on the powerful laser heat-ray disintegrator blaster fitted to the NASA Mars rover Curiosity, which departed planet Earth on Saturday and is even now hurtling through the void of space towards a rendezvous with destiny in the red planet's Elysium Planitia region.

The information on the magnificent robot's raygun installation was furnished to us by the boffins of the US Los Alamos National Laboratory, who collaborated with French space scientists to produce it.

First up is the headlining spec: Curiosity's laser is mighty indeed, capable of putting out a beam at no less than megawatt intensity. This is impressive stuff, in the same range as the savagely powerful war-ray of the US Airborne Laser Test Bed project, intended to destroy enemy intercontinental missiles soaring up from their launch pads at distances perhaps as much as 400km, which requires a mighty jumbo jet to lift it.

While Curiosity is large as Mars rovers go, the Mars-prowling recon robot weighs only a ton: it is a tiny fraction of the size of the ALTB jumbo. And yet its seems that its raygun is of equal puissance, such that the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft carrying Curiosity could easily function as a powerful space battlecruiser should the need arise.

But in fact it turns out that the Martian explorer's beam can be sustained only for tiny instants of time, just enough for it to vapourise "an area the size of a pinhead" from the rocks or clayey ancient mud strata of the Gale Crater, at ranges of up to 23 feet. This disintegration of the Martian dirt under the rover's heat-ray (for the laser operates in the infrared) will cause it to scatter and emit telltale light, revealing its chemical makeup to "ChemCam" instruments on the vehicle.

“ChemCam is designed to look for lighter elements such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, all of which are crucial for life,” says Roger Wiens, principal investigator on NASA's ChemCam team. “The system can provide immediate, unambiguous detection of water from frost or other sources on the surface as well as carbon - a basic building block of life as well as a possible byproduct of life. This makes the ChemCam a vital component of Curiosity’s mission.”

Apart from the laser heatray disintegrator pinhead blaster, the Los Alamos boffins have also been involved in sorting out Curiosity's nuclear powerpack, which provides juice for the laser and all the rover's other systems (unsurprisingly, as Los Alamos was a key location in early US nuclear research). Solar panels couldn't furnish enough energy, reliably enough, for such a large and capable rover in the relatively feeble Martian sunlight.

The MSL spacecraft is expected to reach Mars on August 5, 2012, at which point its next great challenge - that of making a safe landing on the red planet's surface - must be overcome before its mission can begin properly. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
KILLER ROBOTS, DNA TAMPERING and PEEPING CYBORGS: the future looks bright!
Americans optimistic about technology despite being afraid of EVERYTHING
R.I.P. LADEE: Probe smashes into lunar surface at 3,600mph
Swan dive signs off successful science mission
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.