Searching for water on the Moon: LZH develops laser for polar regions
12/17/2019

In the LUVMI-X project, the LZH is developing a laser that is resistant to cold for the search for volatile elements, such as water, in the polar regions of the Moon. (Photo: ESA / SMART-1 / AMIE camera team / Space Exploration Institute, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

For a long time it was assumed there is no water on the Moon. However, evidence is increasing. The Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) is now working on the LUVMI-X project to develop a laser that can find water or other volatiles in the polar regions of the Moon.

The probability of finding water or other volatiles is highest in the polar regions, as they are frozen within the polar ice. To detect them, the LZH is developing a laser for a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) system as part of the LUVMI-X project. The laser radiation of the system breaks down molecules into their atoms. This creates a plasma and the atoms send out a characteristic spectrum. The spectrum of this plasma can then be compared with spectra of known atomic compositions to determine the elements in the sample. In LUVMI-X the LZH, the Institute of Optical Sensor Systems of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and OHB System AG jointly work on the LIBS system.

Goal: Reliable under extreme coldness
Such a laser must not only be small, compact, and robust, but also function reliably even in extremely cold areas with temperatures well below -100 °C. Such temperatures are problematic for conventional laser systems. The finished system is to be tested by the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems on regolith simulant, a substance that is very similar to Moon dust. Of interest is, for example, how the plasma propagates in a vacuum and what parameters are necessary to make the measurement possible despite the difficult circumstances. The low-temperature tests will be carried out by OHB System AG, which also develops the optical head of the instrument.

One of the objectives of the LUVMI-X project is a laboratory prototype for pre-testing. In the long term, the laser system is to be integrated into a moon rover. The development of this rover and other measuring instruments is also part of the research project.

The “Lunar Volatile Mobile Instrumentation Extended” project (LUVMI-X) is funded by the European Union within the scope of the Horizon 2020 funding program and coordinated by Space Applications Services NV / SA. More information at: www.h2020-luvmi-x.eu.

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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 Niedersachsen Ministry for Economic Affairs, Employment, Transport and Digitalisation and is dedicated to the selfless promotion of applied research in the field of photonics and laser technology. Founded in 1986, almost 200 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. Eighteen successful 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.