NASA is following in the footsteps of its Apollo days, stating that it has fit its Perseverance rover with a special type of reflector designed to be shot with lasers. The space agency did a similar thing involving retroreflectors on the Moon, which NASA describes as ‘essentially small arrays of mirrors.’ The idea was that NASA could shoot the reflectors with lasers to get important data on the Moon, something it will eventually replicate with similar reflectors on Mars.
NASA details its retroreflector plan in a new post on its Mars Exploration Program website today, stating that it doesn’t actually have any plans to shoot lasers at Perseverance…right now, that is. Including a small Laser Retroreflector Array on the rover, as well as the Laser Retroreflector for InSight on the InSight lander, will enable the space agency to conduct laser-based experiments in the future.
Unlike the retroreflectors on the Moon, which are hit with lasers beamed all the way from Earth, the space agency doesn’t plan to shoot lasers at the rover’s reflector all the way from Earth to Mars. Rather, NASA explains that in the future, a laser could be equipped on a future Mars orbiter spacecraft, reducing the distance the laser would have to travel to get measurements.
NASA notes that the European Space Agency also plans to include a retroreflector on its ExoMars rover, which is currently scheduled to launch for Mars in 2022. The presence of these small retroreflectors on the rovers and lander are essentially ensuring that when NASA or the ESA is ready to conduct a laser measuring mission, the necessary hardware will already be available and ready to go.
Perseverance rover’s retroreflector is quite small at only 2-inches wide; NASA describes it as being similar to a bike reflector. Tiny glass cells using mirrored face designs reflect the laser light back to the source of the beam, making it possible for astronomers to take measurements that would otherwise be impossible.