The robotic arm of the Mars rover Curiosity has been equipped with custom-made state-of-the-art technology from RINGFEDER POWER TRANSMISSION
On 6th August 2012 the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the second smallest planet in our solar system after a journey of eight and a half months which covered a distance of 570 million kilometres. The robotic arm of the rover includes a percussion drill to crush rock and take samples. A vital shock-absorbing component is a friction spring which has been designed specifically by RINGFEDER POWER TRANSMISSION to cushion blows with an energy value of up to six joules.
With a diameter of a mere 18 millimetres the element may be small but nevertheless plays a decisive role in guaranteeing smooth operation. The requirements in such a component are tremendous. After all, temperatures on the surface of the planet average minus 55 degrees Celsius and during Mars spring violent sand storms roar across the plains. And since the next service station is millions of kilometres away, a breakdown would have severe consequences for the 2.5 billion dollar mission.
It goes without saying that this has been a welcome challenge for the development team of RINGFEDER POWER TRANSMISSION. The specialists for driving and shock-absorbing technology have made a name for themselves with special solutions for individual needs in the past already. By the middle of 2008 RINGFEDER was approached by NASA’s 'Jet Propulsion Laboratory' (JPL) in Pasadena, California, to design a friction spring. The shock-absorbing element was to be employed in a percussion drill that would have to operate in a vacuum.
We have been working with JPL for many years in California and have maintained contact with various engineers there since then. As early as in 1998 we supplied them with special shrink discs and flange connections', explains Robert E. Maul of RINGFEDER POWER TRANSMISSION USA. He passed on the inquiry to his German colleague Udo Krämer, product manager for shock-absorbing technology in Groß-Umstadt. Subsequently Krämer developed the desired element opting for special high-strength stainless steel that he had worked with repeatedly with great success before – a choice which would prove perfectly right for a mission on Mars, too.
RINGFEDER USA also investigated special coatings that could substitute grease as lubricant for the spring. After an in-house trial phase the team sent samples to the JPL for evaluation. In California, the application was put to the acid test on different types of rock, drilling 1.200 holes in order to make sure that the tool worked properly. The series of tests have been well worth the effort: the drill continues to work reliably and has already taken a large number of samples.