Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Device could measure wind on Mars

An anemometer
The rod is covered with a layer of platinum 1000 times thinner than a hair

A company has produced a device which it hopes will measure wind speed and direction on Mars.

The anemometer is set to be positioned on a robotic rover vehicle on a European Space agency mission in 2016.

It is made by Laser Micromachining Limited (LML), in St Asaph, Denbighshire, which builds precise components using lasers.

The device consists of a circular rod with patterns measuring just two hundredths of a millimetre.

The company said the anemometer represented a vital component in the next generation of space technology.

Platinum

It requires a small rod of glass covered in a platinum layer a thousand times thinner than the average human hair.

Using lasers, delicate patterns were produced which create a mini electrical circuit and allow wind direction and strength to be measured.

LML general manager Dr Nadeem Rizvi said: "Other techniques have been tried but have not been able to produce the very fine features required by the mission.

An anemometer
Lasers were used to produce delicate patterns

"This is a major technical development for the mission but also for future science investigations to come."

Mr Rizvi said the planned 2016 ExoMars mission would look for signs of life on Mars as well as analysing the make-up of the red planet.

Explaining more about the anemometer, he added: "The major challenge was to produce extremely fine and accurate patterns, as small as two hundredths of a millimetre, over the surface of a circular rod.

"We are proud to say that through the expertise and world-class facilities here at LML we have delivered what many thought was not possible and the detectors are being tested as we speak.

"Not only has our technology produced the strongest accuracies demanded in space projects but we have proven that laser micromachining is here, it can work and has the potential to be the number one technology of the future."

Ieuan Wyn Jones, economy minister, said: "It's excellent news to hear of a Welsh company playing a key role in providing the vital technology needed to support such an exciting high profile space programme."



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