LIBS Z-300 deployed in Canadian Space Agency lunar research
Woburn, Mass., Aug. 5, 2019 — The SciAps LIBS Z-300 will be used in a lunar analog simulation mission with the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration and the University of Western Ontario from August 5 through August 19. The simulation is funded by the Canadian Space Agency and will be used as a resource for future missions to the moon.
Matthew Svensson, one of the CPSX team members and their expert in LIBS technology, spoke with SciAps about the project. Their current role is to study the moon, but they are using lessons learned from recent Mars missions to further their research.
“We are simulating the rover going to the moon, being controlled from Earth and then being able to take samples and bring them back for further analyses,” he said. “The main factor in choosing the SciAps Z-300 was that it is one of the very few LIBS instruments in the market that had actually been used for measuring the composition of geological material.”
Svensson explains, “LIBS analysis, at least on Earth, is generally used to measure the composition of different alloys, but SciAps has taken the instrument down such a road that they are able to calibrate it for use in measuring geological materials.”
To perform the simulation, dubbed CanMoon, the CPSX team had to find a location that is geologically similar to the lunar surface of the moon. They decided on Lanzarote, Spain, a part of the Canary Islands with a barren landscape. “This island has a lot of dark, jagged rock, and volcanic terrain,” which makes it perfect for an analog site, Svensson said.
There will be two teams: Mission Control, simulating Earth’s Mission Control and working out of Western Ontario, and the Field Team, simulating the Lunar Rover and working out of Lanzarote. Because an actual mission costs billions of dollars, it’s essential that the research team uncover potential problems and rehearse every detail. The simulation must represent an actual mission as closely as possible, including repeatable and accurate tests in a remote location.
While lunar exploration will use on-board LIBS (laser induced breakdown spectroscopy) to analyze the composition of its surrounding environment from about 7 meters away, the CPSX team will accurately replicate the tests in Lanzarote with the handheld SciAps Z-300.
“We have a lot of handheld instruments that are similar to what a real rover would have. This is where instruments like the LIBS comes in,” Svensson said. The Z-300 will provide critical information using SciAps GeoChem Pro App. The onboard camera will shoot a 16 by 16 raster to create a heat map that reveals where elements are in the sample and in what abundance.
“It’s the only instrument that gives us back numbers associated with the weight percent of elements in our target material. Also, it’s able to analyze a wide range of elements. Instruments that don’t have the same range as the LIBS are not able to detect lighter elements, like sodium. The SciAps LIBS has that capability, which is valuable for the science team’s interpretations,” Svensson said.
CPSX and University of Western Ontario join the Canadian Space Agency and NASA in their mission to return to the moon for the first time since 1972. In February 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada is joining the international effort to explore the Moon with robots and, eventually, humans. As Svensson puts it, “It’s a little surreal to think that what we’re doing is going to be used to explore the moon one day and that all the choices that we’re making matters for the future exploration of the lunar surface.”
For more information on the mission:
- Follow #CanMoon on Twitter
- Visit the CanMoon Mission website
- Read the University of Western Ontario press release
About SciAps: SciAps is a fast growing, Boston-based handheld analytical instruments company. Founded in 2013, it continues to innovate three core technologies — X-ray, laser, and Raman — for portable, in-field measurements of elements, minerals and compounds. Find more information on their portable instrumentation, including product specifications and applications for all major industries, at www.sciaps.com.