Drilling on Mars utilizes sensors designed by LTU alums
Monday, February 25th, 2013
By Eric Pope
When the Mars rover Curiosity bore its first hole into the Martian surface on Feb. 9, it relied on two sensors designed specifically for the robotic drilling arm by FUTEK Advanced Sensor Technology Inc. of Irvine, CA. Images sent back to Earth on Feb. 20 confirmed that the rover had successfully acquired core samples suitable for detailed analysis.
FUTEK was founded by two Lawrence Technological University alumni, CEO Javad Mokhbery, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1979, and Mohammed Mokhberi, who earned a degree in industrial management in 1978. (The brothers spell their last name differently.)
Considered by many engineers to be the rover’s most complex device, the robotic drilling arm bore a hole 0.63 inch wide and 2.5 inches deep in what is identified as a “flat, veiny rock” to collect its first samples of Martian bedrock. Helping to ensure the success of this drilling mission were two customized sensors developed by FUTEK.
Within the drill sits the “thru-hole” cryogenic load cell FUTEK manufactured to measure the forces of the drill bit as it bores into the Martian terrain. See this link.
Meanwhile, the cryogenic multi-axial sensor sits at the base of the rover’s robotic arm monitoring the arm’s maneuvers. This three-component sensor provides essential feedback to the operating device by identifying the levels of torsion and force applied to the arm. See this link.
Ground controllers will guide Curiosity through multiple stages of investigation with the rover’s
Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device.
Preliminary analysis indicated evidence of water/moisture saturation at the first drilling location, which would be an exciting discovery if confirmed through more detailed analysis by NASA scientists.
“FUTEK’s entire team waits in anticipation for the results from the drilling process. We are excited to be part of this historic scientific exploration and again thank the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for this partnership,” said FUTEK CEO Javad Mokhbery.
According to a National Geographic article published on Feb. 20, the drill located at the end of a two-meter arm requires precision maneuvering in its placement and movement, and so its successful use was an exciting and welcome relief for NASA engineers. The rover has been on Mars since August, and it took six months to find the right spot for that first drill.
For the team that designed and operates the drill, the results were a triumph, as great as the much heralded landing of Curiosity on Mars, according to sample system chief engineer Louise Jandura, who has worked on the drill for eight years.
She told National Geographic the drill is unique in its capabilities and complexities with more than a hundred maneuvers in its repertoire. To prepare for the Mars mission, the Curosity team considered eight different drills before settling on the one now on the rover. The team tested each drill by boring 1,200 holes on 20 types of rock on Earth.
Jandura called the successful drilling “historic” because it gives scientists unprecedented access to material that has not been exposed to the intense weathering and radiation processes that affect the Martian surface.