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Optech Launches its LiDAR Technology Toward Mars

August 6, 2007
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Vaughan, Ontario– Optech lidar technology has been successfully launched toward Mars aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. The launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral early Saturday morning marks the beginning of a 680 million kilometre journey to the Arctic region of Mars. After over nine months in space, the Phoenix spacecraft will land near the Martian North Pole on May 25th, 2008 and begin its search for water and environmental habitats that could harbour life.

Optech lidar technology is at the heart of Canada's contribution to the Phoenix mission – a meteorological weather station that will help accurately model Mars's climate and predict future weather processes. The Canadian Space Agency funded the contribution of the meteorological (MET) package to NASA, which was designed and built by Optech and MDA Space Missions with input from Canadian and US scientists. The Phoenix lidar will bounce laser pulses off passing clouds and atmospheric dust overhead to determine their composition, movement and size.

“The Phoenix lidar will not only unveil secrets about the Martian atmosphere, but will also help scientists with a greater understanding of how things work back here on Earth,” said Dr. Robert Richards, Director of Optech’s Space Group.

By scanning and probing the Martian polar sky with lidar for the first time in history, scientists are expecting to see a variety of atmospheric activity in greater detail than ever before, such as ice and dust clouds, ground fog, and maybe a few surprises if dust devils and sand storms fly across the landing site. To be able to pierce through most of the thin atmosphere, the laser is fixed in an upward-pointing orientation and works at 2 different wavelengths so that it can give accurate measurements of cloud height to within 10 meters. Despite only working on a power of a 30-watt light bulb, the lidar will be able to shoot 20 kilometres high into the Martian atmosphere.

Optech founder and Chairman Dr. Allan Carswell was the originating Canadian Principal Investigator for the Phoenix mission, and remains an active member of the Canadian and US Phoenix Science Teams. “We’ve been using lidar technology to study Earth’s atmosphere for many years but this is the first time this unique technology will be used on another planet,” Dr. Carswell said. “Studying weather is a very Canadian thing to do and we’re very proud to help put the maple leaf on Mars.”

More information about the Phoenix MET Station and lidar is available at the Canadian Space Agency’s website: www.space.gc.ca/asc/eng/exploration/phoenix_lidar.asp

About Optech

Optech is the world leader in the development, manufacture and marketing of advanced laser-based survey instruments. The company offers client-driven solutions in airborne terrestrial mapping, airborne laser bathymetry, laser imaging, space-qualified sensors for orbital operations and planetary exploration, mine cavity monitoring systems and industrial process control.

Source: Optech, August 4, 2007.

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