At the Toulouse space center, in the premises of FIMOC, one of the control centers of the American rover Curiosity, the month of August has had a special flavor since 2012. Every August 6, the team which remotely controls the ChemCam laser camera for the MSL research mission on the planet Mars, gets together around a birthday cake. For this eighth celebration, the recipe was made by Eric Lorigny, head of FIMOC, chestnut cream taste to match Martian colors.
The opportunity to recall that, for 8 years, a rover has been surveying the soil of Mars to analyze its rocks. It is equipped with the ChemCam laser camera, designed in Toulouse (1).
“Curiosity is on track to hold out. We started with 120% battery capacity and still have between 75% and 80% left. It is always a feat to last a long time on Mars. All the rover’s instruments are working very well, we do not feel a drop in activity. And motivation does not weaken! Curiosity has finished exploring clays, it is currently in a transition zone between clays and sulphates, scientifically we are never satisfied! ”, Testifies Eric Lorigny, head of FIMOC at CNES.
In 8 years, the Toulouse laser camera has carried out 800,000 shots on Martian rocks
At the top of its mast, the ChemCam laser camera locates (12,000 images taken since 2012) and shoots targets to carry out its work as a geologist. At the rate of around 100,000 laser shots each year, ChemCam has just passed the milestone of 800,000 shots fired on 3,400 targeted targets, half of which were operated from Toulouse (the FIMOC pilots at a distance alternating with the Americans from the JPL in Los Alamos).
In February 2021, the Toulouse space center will use the same model to pilot the SuperCam laser camera which equips the Perseverance rover en route to Mars. Three Martian missions will then be operated from Toulouse: Curiosity (MSL mission to research the habitability of Mars, since 2012), InSight (analysis of the internal structure of Mars, in particular of its tremors, since the end of 2018) and Mars2020 (search for traces of past life, February 2021).
(1) IRAP, Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology of Toulouse, CNRS / Université Toulouse III Paul-Sabatier; CNES, National Center for Space Studies Via LaDepeche