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New Mars Rover Robotic Arm Contract Awarded to Alliance Spacesystems

  • Sunday, 17th September 2006
  • Reading time: about 2 minutes

Alliance Spacesystems, which has already built three robotic arms for Mars spacecraft, has been awarded the engineering contract for another – the robotic arm for NASA’s next major Mars rover mission, the Mars Science Laboratory, targeted for a 2009 launch.

The nearly six-foot-long, five-jointed composite arm for the Mars Science Laboratory is the most sophisticated robotic instrument positioning system yet designed for a space science mission. Several instruments, cameras and geology tools are to be mounted on the arm, which must precisely position the devices on or near targeted rocks and soils at dozens of sites on the Martian surface.

The Mars Science Laboratory is being designed to travel farther, operate longer and carry the largest and most capable payload of science instruments yet to explore Mars. The overall goal is to find whether the sites studied had or still have environmental conditions favourable to microbial life. The new robotic arm must meet a demanding, two-year long mission operations schedule and function successfully amidst the dirt and dust of Mars’ surface.

Alliance was awarded the $2.16 million engineering phase on the new robotic arm work by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA. JPL manages the rover project for NASA. The manufacturing and test phase of the robotic arm contract is still being negotiated.

“Alliance has unmatched heritage and success in robotics systems engineering and development for Mars, which is one of the most challenging environments for remote operating electromechanical devices,” said Alliance President and CEO René Fradet. “We’re looking forward to leveraging our Mars-mission expertise for lunar and Earthorbital applications.”

Two Alliance-built arms are still in operation on NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, and Alliance recently delivered the robotic arm for NASA’s Mars Phoenix Lander, due for launch in 2007. The robotic arm for the Mars Science Laboratory must include mechanical and electrical interfaces to all turret-mounted mechanisms and contact instruments, surface sampler hardware and contact sensors for the instruments that come into contact with rocks and soil. In addition, the system must include launch locks and associated rover interface hardware.

Alliance is performing a wide range of other work on the Mars Science Laboratory, including cruise stage secondary structure, analysis and optimization studies for the primary cruise stage structure, and the structure for the landing system’s terminal descent sensor.

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