On Monday, a camera developed here in New Mexico makes its first stop on its mission to Mars. Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory say the SuperCam will be a key feature on the 2020 Mars rover. It will be attached to the rover currently at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. before heading to space next year.

“SuperCam is like a geological observatory on Mars,” said Roger Wiens, principal investigator on the SuperCam at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The future of space exploration is in the works, and it’s happening right here in New Mexico with the development of the SuperCam. 

“There is a small telescope on top of the rover, and we use it to fire laser beams at rocks and soils, and then collect the light that will tell us the compositions, both mineralogically and chemically, for these rocks and soils all around the rover,” said Wiens.

The SuperCam will head to the red planet on the Mars 2020 rover. A level up from the ChemCam on Curiosity, this will allow for some new scientific findings on Mars.

“SuperCam has added three new techniques, including a microphone for a lot of scientific investigation that we cannot do now,” said Wiens. While the technology was developed locally, Wiens says it’s an international effort.

“We are leading this at Los Alamos but we are also partnering with the French government and Spanish universities, as well,” said Wiens. Local researchers look forward to working with NASA on new research.

“The new rover that NASA is sending to Mars has the mission of actually collecting samples that we hope to bring back to Earth someday. That’s never been done before,” said Wiens. “This instrument will participate in really selecting the right samples to do that, so it will be a special task.”

With a number of national laboratories in the state — including the lab in Los Alamos developing the SuperCam — the potential for technological discoveries is endless.

“We are a hotbed of innovation in some ways and it’s great to take those technologies that we develop, maybe for national security, and spin them off into things like exploration,” said Wiens.

It’s innovative technology putting New Mexico on the map when it comes to exploring the final frontier. NASA has called the SuperCam a “Swiss Army knife of instruments” because of its versatility.

The SuperCam is expected to make its space journey on the rover in July 2020, landing on Mars in February of 2021.