Date: April 11, 2003

John Marshall, MICA PI
SETI Institute
(650) 961-6633

Russ Mellon, President
Equinox Interscience, Inc.

Golden, Colorado. Equinox Interscience, Inc. announced the receipt of a $1.3M contract from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop a Mineral Identification & Composition Analyzer (MICA) for use on future Mars missions.

MICA will combine multiple optical and x-ray imaging techniques to determine the mineralogical nature of Martian rocks, sand or dust.

The objective of the MICA project is to demonstrate how optical imaging combined with x-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence techniques can facilitate rapid geological reconnaissance of Martian surface materials.

MICA uses X-rays and visible light to identify the mineral type, crystal structure and elemental composition of undisturbed rock samples.
MICA enhances the ability to conduct rapid surveys because it performs its analysis entirely by observation without having to handle, process or disturb the surface materials. Per Russ Mellon, President of Equinox, "MICA requires no sample acquisition or preparation, only that the instrument be able to observe the sample in close proximity. With MICA we are able to examine both granular materials such as dust and sand as well as solid surfaces of rock or ice".

Unlike earlier techniques, MICA has the advantage that it does not require complex, energy consuming, high-risk sample preparation techniques involving the destructive conversion of the sample into a powder. MICA will automatically perform non-destructive in situ analyses to quickly determine the mineralogical nature of samples, including their appearance, crystalline structure and elemental composition.

MICA can be mounted on the robotic arm of a lander or rover and analyze samples anywhere within reach by positioning the instrument over the sample. "MICA contributes to risk reduction for robotic surface operations", said Dan Scheld, VP Engineering for Equinox. "MICA can still perform analysis in the worst case where a rover might be disabled or unable to navigate since anything within arms reach is still a viable target for analysis."

MICA can be used for the in situ analysis of rocks and regolith on Mars or on any planetary surface (Moon, Europa, asteroids). MICA belongs to the next generation of increasingly miniaturized exploration instruments. It offers an improved capability for sophisticated in situ analysis while at the same time enhancing the ability to select high value candidates for possible Sample Return to Earth.

According to John Marshall of the SETI Institute and MICA Principal Investigator, "The art of geological field exploration is knowing what not to hump back to the laboratory. MICA will provide a mission with the dual capability of sophisticated sample analysis and better sample screening."

This contract is one of several selected by the NASA Office of Space Science as part of the NASA Mars Instrument Development Project. The MICA development activities include a three-year project to design, fabricate, and test a prototype MICA instrument, ready for simulated Mars rover tests.

The EI MICA Team includes the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California; Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, Colorado; the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado; Applied Nanotechnologies, Inc. in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and E2V Technologies in Chelmsford, UK.

For more information see:

  • MICA Home Page
  • MICA Illustration
  • MICA Instrument Details
  • Equinox Special Projects - MICA