MOMA Laser Ready for the Flight To Mars

One last time on Earth it has been turned on in France in December 2019. The next time the MOMA laser developed by the Laser Zentrum Hannover is going into operation will be on Mars. The ExoMars rover into which the laser is integrated has now successfully passed the thermal vacuum tests at Airbus in Toulouse, France.

The ExoMars Rover with the MOMA laser successfully passed thermal vacuum tests at Airbus in Toulouse, France. (Source: Airbus)

For 18 days, the ExoMars rover “Rosalind Franklin” was subjected to thermal vacuum tests at Airbus, where it had to withstand strong changes in temperature and vacuum. The tests at Airbus imitate the conditions on Mars and simulate two hot and two cold Mars days. These so-called sols last approximately 24 hours.

The LZH laser is a central component of the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) measuring instrument which is installed in the rover’s Analytical Lab Drawer (ALD). The MOMA laser is supposed to bring soil samples into gas phase on Mars. The probe will then be analyzed with a mass spectrometer to examine the sample’s molecular composition. If the rover were to find organic molecules, it could be an indication of past life on Mars.

Turned on for the last time on Earth: the MOMA laser integrated into the flight model of the mass spectrometer in the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. (Source: LZH)

Small, light and very robust laser

The solid-state laser head is diode-pumped and emits in the UV spectral range with a wavelength of 266 nm. It is the first laser for space applications with this UV wavelength. It has an adjustable laser pulse energy of up to 130 µJ. Its special properties are however weight, size and above all its robustness. With a length of about 20 cm, it only weighs about 220 grams.

Having successfully past the tests, the rover will now be integrated into the landing module of the overall system. For this purpose, it will travel to Cannes in the next few weeks. Its last stop on Earth is Baikonur in Kazakhstan, from where the ExoMars mission will start probably in July or August 2020.

Additionally, the LZH has recently delivered the flight spare model of the laser to NASA, where it is currently being built into the flight spare model of the MOMA instrument. These models serve to simulate and correct possible errors on Earth.

The flight spare model of the MOMA laser has been delivered to NASA in 2019 for integration into the flight spare model of the measuring instrument. (Source: LZH)

ExoMars is an astrobiology project of the European Space Agency ESA in cooperation with the Russian space agency Roskosmos with the participation of NASA. The laser development is funded by the space agency of the German Aerospace Center with funds from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology based on a decision of the Ger-man Bundestag under the grant numbers 50QX1002 and 50QX1402. (Source: LZH)

Links: Mars Organic Molecule Analyser MOMA (F. Goesmann), Planetary Science Dept., Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung (MPS) Göttingen, GermanyThe ExoMars Programme 2016-2020, European Space Agency (ESA), Paris, FranceSolid-State Lasers Group (P. Weßels), Laser Development Dept., Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH), Hanover, Germany

Further Reading: An Ultraviolet Laser for the Red Planet, photonicsviews.com, 29th December 2017

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