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Mike Anderson

Utah company to send technology to 1st drilling mission to Mars

By Celeste Tholen Rosenlof and Mike Anderson  |  Posted Jan 20th, 2014 @ 7:44pm


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LOGAN — A Utah company is contributing to a space exploration and the search for life on Mars with their holographic gratings.

Wasatch Photonics, based in Logan, will send a spectrometer with the ExoMars mission in 2018 – a European Space Agency venture – that will look for evidence of past or present life, as well as study the history of water on Mars by collecting samples and studying them on the surface of the Red Planet. The mission is the first of its kind and builds on previous explorations of the planet.

“To evaluate the samples there is what’s cool and our grating is what’s making that possible,” said Gerald Heidt, CEO of Wasatch Photonics.

The company’s volume phase holographic gratings will be used in the spectrometer, which will study samples drilled by a rover from the surface of Mars. The spectrometer measures light waves, breaking up the spectrum of light and determining the material’s makeup or fingerprint by those waves. From those sample studies, scientists on Earth will be able to make conclusions about the possibility of life on Mars.

“To me, it’s exciting because ever since I was a kid I’ve always liked space and astronomy and planets – I always studied that,” Heidt said. "To me, the aspect of being part of some discovery effort is pretty exciting. This is unprecedented. They’ll learn more about Mars after this than before.”

The European Space Agency ordered 38 gratings, which are about ⅓ of the way through their process, Heidt said. He said only one will go to space, while the rest will be used for testing, as backups and other uses.

Heidt said this is the first of several missions, including some that intend to drill deeper.

“This is just the start, I think, of a whole lot of missions. If they ever want to send a man mission to Mars, they need to know where to find certain resources,” Heidt said. “This is preparing everyone for that, too.”

Wasatch Photonics started out as Heidt's hobby of creating holographic art with the co-found Richard Rallison, who had since passed away.

"(He) started playing around with making 3-D images in gelatin. From there he grew a business that made small, holographic trinkets," Heidt said.

Heidt said they're using Raman Spectroscopy to detect skin cancer using the different colors and patterns created by the light.

"Light has always been a pretty tell-all source around us," Heidt said. "We manipulate light, we break it down into different spectrums and components. The florescent light isn't a complete continuous band of white lights. It's broken into different bands of components. We manipulate light, we break it down into different spectrums and components."

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