Press Release

MDA Alliance Delivers Engineering Model of Robotic Arm for NASA’s Next Mars Rover

By SpaceRef Editor
June 3, 2009
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Mars Science Laboratory rover arm is fourth “Mars arm” to be engineered by Pasadena-based firm

PASADENA, CA, June 1, 2009 – MDA Alliance has delivered the engineering model of the robotic arm that will be used on NASA’s upcoming Mars Science Laboratory, a roving, jeep-size geology lab scheduled for launch in 2011.

The new arm was delivered May 20th to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, which manages the rover project. MDA Alliance provided three earlier robotic arms for NASA’s other history-making Mars rovers and landers.

The nearly six-foot-long, five-jointed arm 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. [See how the arm works in this mission animation:]

“This is the largest and most capable arm yet our company has built for any Mars craft,” said MDA Alliance President and General Manager Michael Kearney. “For this newest arm, we have been able to apply the knowledge gained from our development of robotic systems for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and for the Mars Phoenix Lander.”

The Mars Science Laboratory will travel farther, operate longer and carry the largest and most capable payload of science instruments yet to explore Mars. Its goal is to determine whether Mars had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life. The rover’s robotic arm faces a demanding, two-year long mission amidst the dirt, dust and cold of Mars.

The robotic arm includes mechanical and electrical interfaces to all turret-mounted mechanisms and contact instruments, and surface sampler hardware and contact sensors for the instruments that come into contact with rocks and soil. The system also includes launch locks and associated rover interface hardware.

Alliance is performing a wide range of other work on the Mars Science Laboratory. Tasks include the cruise stage secondary structure, analysis and optimization studies for the primary cruise stage structure, the assembly structure for the landing system’s terminal descent sensor, and the structure and mechanisms for the Mars Hand Lens Imager and Mastcam cameras.

The flight model is scheduled to be delivered to JPL next year, with the actual date dependent on when MDA Alliance receives the flight actuators, which are being provided as customer-furnished equipment.

MDA Alliance, formerly Alliance Spacesystems LLC, provides customers with world-class aerospace engineering expertise in a small, customer-focused business environment. The company is a leading provider of mechanical systems engineering, custom design and fabrication in composites structures, robotics and mechanisms, and mechanical analyses for systems operating in extreme environments. MDA Alliance innovative products are in use on interplanetary spacecraft, telecommunications and scientific satellites and in many challenging terrestrial applications.


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Roy Y. Nakagawa, Director of Advanced Programs
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SpaceRef staff editor.