Multianode tantalum capacitors from AVX deliver power to laser source on Mars

TBM tantalum multianode capacitors for aerospace applications are used for the ChemCam laser on board of ‘Curiosity’

The ChemCam (chemistry and camera instrument) laser module on board of Mars rover ‘Curiosity’ – which successfully landed on Mars on 6th August 2012 – contains 630 tantalum multianode capacitors from AVX Corporation, a leading manufacturer of advanced passive components and interconnect solutions. The laser module is used to analyse chemical elements of rocks on Mars.

On 20th August 2012 ‘Curiosity’ successfully fired its laser for the first time on Mars to interrogate a fist-sized rock called ‘Coronation’. The laser from the rover’s ChemCam hit the rock with 30 pulses during a ten-second period. Each pulse delivered more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.

The design of the laser power source for the ChemCam had to meet extreme requirements. A small size and very light-weight package delivering very high power performance using only well established, high reliability components was required. In co-operation with IRAP (Institut de Recherche en Astronomie et Planétologie) and CNES(Centre National d’Études Spatiales) in Toulouse, France, part of ChemCam’s US-French design team, AVX’s Tantalum Division in Lanskroun, Czech Republic / Biddeford, Maine, USA designed a large bank of 630 tantalum multianode capacitors (470µF 10V). Providing very low ESR, the devices are based on proven, high-quality technology by AVX. The capacitors were produced in the ESA (European Space Agency)-approved manufacturing facility from AVX inLanskroun,Czech Republicand then re-tested to MIL standards by AVX inBiddeford,Maine,USA.

“At AVX we are all very excited about the great success of NASA’s latest Mars mission and the ChemCam project. We are delighted to be a part – even if only a small one – of this exciting mission. This is a big step for all of us and we wish ‘Curiosity’ the best of luck,” comments Tomas Zednicek, PhD, Technical Marketing of AVX Tantalum Division, Lanskroun, Czech Republic.

About the ChemCam on board of NASA’s Mars rover ‘Curiosity’:

ChemCam’s laser, imager and telescope can be pointed at rock and soil targets in the vicinity of the rover from its position on top of the mast,2 meters(6.6 feet) above the ground. Laser pulses vaporize a pinhead-size target up to7 meters(32 feet) away, producing a flash of light from the material ionized by the laser. The telescope observes that flash of light.

An optical fiber from the mast unit delivers the telescope’s observation to the body unit, which analyzes the light from the ionized target material to identify chemical elements in the target. The body unit is20 centimetres(7.9 inches) long.

ChemCam was conceived, designed and built by a US-French team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N. M.; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; the CNES Centre National d’Études Spatiales (the French government space agency); and the IRAP (Institut de Recherche en Astronomie et Planétologie), Toulouse, France.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology inPasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Researchers will use the tools on the rover to study whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favourable for supporting microbial life and favourable for preserving clues about whether life existed.*