Helical Products Company, Inc. is proud to announce that several of its parts are present on NASA's latest space explorer, the Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" rover. Helical's engineering team designed and manufactured both flexible couplings and machined springs for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working closely with JPL's engineers on these precise, custom designs.
Among these parts is a custom flexible coupling to be used in the Vibration Mechanism in the Sample Acquisition & Sample Processing and Handling (SASPaH) subsystem at the end of the Robotic Arm. This system, located at the front of the rover, is responsible for gathering soil samples from Mars' rocky surface. Vibration, aided by the flexible coupling, is utilized to pass the powder through sifters and ultimately through the sampling system. From there, these particles are then processed and examined with the rover's analytical instruments.
In addition to flexible couplings, the Curiosity Rover is also equipped with several Helical Machined Springs. These particular devices are used as a locking latch in the hinge mechanism. Once the rover is deployed on Mars, the hinge rotates and the latch locks it in place. Helical was able to design the spring to meet the following customer requirements:
compression and lateral translation spring rates, end attachments, and titanium material for its lightweight characteristic. Application engineer, Michael Haber, adds, "With this design, we've created a very reliable and elegant solution. The double-start flexure adds redundancy and confidence that the spring will operate the latch. The spring also showcases the advantage of Helical Products technology to combine a number of components and features into one part which further increases reliability - a major concern for the Mars Rover especially since parts won't be serviceable."
Matthew Bush, Helical's application engineer responsible for the flexible coupling design, is very excited about the launch, which is scheduled for Friday, November 25th. He points out the extensiveness of this massive project stating, "I worked with JPL, and our analyst Gary Boehm, on calculations and design of this coupling for about 5 months before we started to manufacture the parts. The engineers at JPL want to make certain that they evaluate every aspect of our part and how it affects the system that they are integrating it into."
This rover is the biggest one yet to roam the red planet, measuring up to the size of a standard car here on Earth. Mars Curiosity will be joining Mars Opportunity, which has been exploring the planet since January of 2004. The new rover is due to land in the Gale crater by August 2012.
Helical Products Company, Inc. has had products launch into space before, including springs on the original Mars "Sojourner" Rover back in 1997. Outside of Mars, Helical currently has parts on the International Space Station (including the ones on the COLBERT Treadmill) and the Hubble Space Telescope that has remained in operation since 1990.