From Hannover around the world and to the Mars: LZH delivers laser for ExoMars 2020 (General press)
11/20/2017

Small laser on a long journey. The laser developed by the LZH will be used in the ExoMars 2020 mission's rover to search for life on Mars. (Graphic: ESA)

Elaborate and tight cable routing: The MOMA laser without laser sheath on the exit side. (Photo: LZH)

In three years, the rocket of the European-Russian ExoMars 2020 mission and a rover shall start their nine-month journey to Mars. Before this journey into space, however, the instruments in the rover still have a long way on earth in front of them. The Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has sent its contribution to the first stage.

The laser head of the LZH has already arrived at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the USA. But before it gets into the rocket to Mars, it still has a long way to go. "Lasers are really very sensitive instruments. Our MOMA laser has to endure a lot to function reliably on Mars”, explains Dr. Peter Weßels, Head of the Solid-State Lasers Group at the LZH, and sums up: "Mechanical shocks during the launch of the rocket and during the landing on Mars, cosmic radiation and very large temperature differences."

Searching for life on Mars
The laser head becomes part of an instrument called MOMA - Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer. This is supposed to track organic compounds in the Martian soil. For this purpose, the rover drills holes, pulverizes the soil samples and the laser of the LZH vaporizes the molecules contained therein. So they can then be analyzed by a mass spectrometer. If organic molecules are found, it can be a sign of possible forms of life on Mars.

Being on the safe side
Before leaving for the US, the laser head was thoroughly tested at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany. At the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA, it is currently being built into NASA's Mass Spectrometer (MS) and retested. Once the test are successfully completed, the laser travels back to Europe as part of the MOMA and is installed there in the rover. At the end of the earthly journey and many tests, the rocket will be in Russia. Together with the rocket, the laser head from Hannover is expected to leave Earth in 2020.

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Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH)
As an independent, non-profit research institute, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) stands for innovative research, development and consulting. The LZH is supported by the Lower Saxony Ministry for Economics, Labour and Transport and is dedicated to the selfless promotion of applied research in the field of photonics and laser technology. Founded in 1986, over 170 employees are now working for the LZH.

The focus of the LZH lies on the fields of optical components and systems, optical production technologies, and biomedical photonics. Interdisciplinary cooperation between natural scientists and mechanical engineers makes innovative approaches to challenges from the most different areas possible: from the development of components for specific laser systems to process developments for the most diverse laser applications, for example for medical technology or lightweight construction in the automotive sector. Seventeen spin off companies have emerged from the LZH up to now. Thus, the LZH has created a strong transfer between fundamental science, application oriented research, and industry.