Designing Instruments

Scientists and staff are engaged in mission operations that involve spacecraft at Mars and beyond. In our instrument creation role, we design and operate remote-sensing instruments on robotic planetary missions.

Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing (JMARS)

  • MISSION: Data-analysis and Mission Planning tool for orbiters at Mars, Earth's Moon, Venus, Jupiter's moons, Mercury, asteroids Ceres and Vesta
  • LAUNCH: June 2003
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Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS)

  • MISSION: Europa Clipper
  • LAUNCH: October 2024
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Lucy Thermal Emission Spectrometer (L’TES)

  • MISSION: Lucy
  • LAUNCH: October 2021
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OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES)

  • LAUNCH: September 2016

The OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) is conducting surveys to map mineral and chemical abundances and measuring asteroid Bennu’s surface temperature and properties. OTES is the first such instrument built entirely on the Arizona State University (ASU) campus.

OSIRIS-REx is currenty orbiting Bennu from which it will collect and bring a small sample back to Earth. The mission launched September 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As planned, the spacecraft will collect the sample in summer 2020 and return it to Earth in September 2023.

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Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS)

  • MISSION: Mars Odyssey
  • LAUNCH: April 2001

The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) is an instrument on board the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. It combines a 5-wavelength visual imaging system with a 9-wavelength infrared imaging system.

Mars Odyssey launched from Kennedy Space Center on April 7, 2001 and arrived at Mars on October 24, 2001. It spent the next several months achieving a circular mapping orbit by aerobraking (dipping into the atmosphere to slow and shrink the orbit). Aerobraking concluded in early February 2002, and primary mapping operations began a few weeks later. The spacecraft is in a 2-hour orbit around Mars.

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Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (MINI-TES)

  • MISSION: Mars Exploration Rovers
  • LAUNCH: July 2003

Scientists at Arizona State University’s Mars Space Flight Facility designed and operate the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES) instrument on each of NASA’s two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

Mini-TES acts as scouting eyes for rover scientists. The instrument can look ahead and identify possible targets of mineralogical interest among the outcrops, loose rocks, and soils around the rover. This ability has proved of particular value with the Spirit rover, which is exploring the complex and jumbled geology of the Columbia Hills inside Gusev Crater.

So far, Mini-TES has led scientists to identify roughly a dozen different rock types — and perhaps two or three times that number await more precise evaluation.

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Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES)

  • MISSION: Mars Global Surveyor
  • LAUNCH: November 1996

Scientists at Arizona State University’s Mars Space Flight Facility designed and operate the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) instrument on NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor orbiter. TES measures the thermal infrared energy (heat) emitted from Mars in many infrared “colors.” This technique, called thermal emission spectroscopy, can tell us much about the geology and atmosphere of Mars.

In particular, TES identified an area in Mars’ Meridiani Planum that contains a large exposure of the iron-oxide mineral hematite. Because hematite usually forms in association with water, NASA used the TES finding to pick Meridiani as the landing site for the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity.

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THOR Imaging Spectrometer (THOR)

  • LAUNCH: October 2011

THOR was to be a hyperspectral imaging spectrometer that would have been the most capable infrared spectrometer yet flown to Mars. The mission planned to view the sublimation plume from the impact craters, the atmosphere, and the surface in a nadir-viewing mode. THOR would have also obtained thermal infrared temperature images of the crater and its ejecta.

THOR was to deliver two high-velocity impactors to excavate materials from the deep subsurface. This would have provided the first access to environments where ice exists and liquid water may be present periodically today. THOR was to determine the composition of these materials using a highly capable infrared spectrometer.

From orbit, THOR was to determine the atmospheric abundance of trace gases, including methane. It would also map where these gases are found and look for variations over time in an attempt to determine their origin.

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