NASA's next Mars rover — Curiosity — took off for the red planet on November 25, 2011, and plans to safely land in the Gale crater area by August 2012. The new rover, about the size of a standard car, will be the biggest one yet to roam the Martian surface. Curiosity will join the Opportunity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2004.
Helical Products Company Inc., Santa Maria, Calif., has several parts aboard Curiosity. The company's engineering team designed and manufactured flexible couplings and machined springs for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), working closely with JPL's engineers on the ultra-precise designs. Flexible couplings will be used in the vibration mechanism within the Sample Acquisition and Sample Processing and Handling (SASPaH) subsystem at the end of the rover's robotic arm. This system, located at the front of the rover, will gather soil samples from the planet's rocky surface. Vibration, aided by the flexible coupling, will be used to pass soil through sifters and ultimately through the sampling system. From there, particles will be processed and examined by the rover's analytical instruments.
Curiosity is also equipped with several of Helical's machined springs, which will be used as a locking latch in the hinge mechanism. Once the rover is deployed, the hinge rotates and the latch locks it in place.
Helical designed the spring to meet NASA's specifications regarding compression and lateral translation spring rates, end attachments, and lightweight titanium material. Helical's parts can also be found on the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope. For more information, visit heli-cal.com.
Another unique space application comes from New Scale Technologies, Victor, N.Y. The company's miniature linear actuator modules are installed on Dynamic Ionosphere CubeSat Experiment (DICE) satellites, a pair of “pico-satellites” built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory at the Utah State University in partnership with ASTRA (PI), L-3 Communications Systems, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.
The satellites were launched into orbit on the United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base on October 28, 2011. Now, they're collecting data on variations in ionosphere plasma density that affect the performance of communications, surveillance, and navigation systems on Earth and in space.
The small, low-powered satellites measure just 10 × 10 × 15 cm each, and require ultra-small, low-power components. New Scale's motion module is a miniature high-resolution positioning system with a piezoelectric motor, integrated drive electronics, and closed-loop control. Less than half the size and one-fourth the weight of comparable systems, it offers 0.5 µm position resolution with many millimeters of travel. For more information, visit sdl.usu.edu/programs/dice and newscaletech.com.