LOS ANGELES, Jan 10 (Reuters) - A 47-year-old scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who worked on robotic systems for exploring Mars and extreme environments on Earth has died in a small plane crash in Los Angeles, officials said on Saturday.

Alberto Behar spent 23 years at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he worked on instruments for the rover Curiosity which landed on Mars in 2012 and the Mars Odyssey orbiter that launched in 2001, the Pasadena, California-based institution said in a statement.

The crash involved a single-engine Lancair aircraft that went down in unknown circumstances shortly after take off from Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles on Friday, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email.

A limited liability company under Behar's name was listed as an owner of the plane in an FAA registry.

Behar's work included developing robotic systems for measuring ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland with the use of submarines, ice rovers and boats, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"From his submarines that peeked under Antarctica to his boats that raced Greenland's rivers, Alberto's work enabled measurements of things we'd never known. His creativity knew few bounds," NASA headquarters scientist Thomas Wagner said in a statement.

When Behar in 2009 submerged a small camera 600 feet (183 metres) beneath an ice sheet in the Antarctic they captured images of a shrimp creature swimming beneath the ice, which surprised him and fellow researchers.

Behar, aside from working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also was a research professor at Arizona State University. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Andrew Hay)