European tech set for Mars rover launch

European tech set for Mars rover launch

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The launch tomorrow afternoon CET will see NASA’s Perseverance landing on Mars in February 2021.

IR HiRel, an Infineon Technologies company, supplied thousands of mission-critical radiation-hardened components for the Mars rover. It also supplied the Opportunity and Spirit rovers in 2004, and Curiosity in 2012.

“IR HiRel has been privileged to supply high-reliability power conversion solutions in space programs over the decades,” said Eric Toulouse, Vice-President and General Manager of IR HiRel. “The Mars Perseverance launch marks another important milestone in space exploration, and we are honoured to have our semiconductor technologies used to power up this spacecraft.”

Several subsystems in the Mars rover, including the flight computer, motor control, radar, and mission instrument suite, integrate rad hard MOSFETs, ICs and other power control products.

Specific instruments on the latest Mars rover using IR HiRel semiconductors include the Mastcam-Z, a mast-mounted HD imaging camera system with panoramic, stereoscopic and zoom capabilities as well as SuperCam, which combines a camera, laser and spectrometers searching for organic compounds potentially related to past life on Mars.

The Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) will look for signs of past Martian microbial life while the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a UV spectrometer for fine-scale detection of minerals, organic molecules and possible biosignatures and the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) also use the IR Hirel parts.

Space grade CCD42-10 image sensors from Teledyne e2v in Chelmsford, ULK, are also part of SuperCam and SHERLOC.

The CCD42 was used for the ChemCam instrument on-board NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. This version of the CCD42 family for Perseverance has a full frame architecture. Back illumination technology, in combination with an extremely low noise amplifier, make the device suitable for the spectroscopy required by the SuperCam and SHERLOC instruments.

Next: Sensor tech on the Mars rover

Teledyne DALSA’s Bromont semiconductor foundry also built the JPL-designed CCD image sensor that powers SkyCam, part of the Spanish-led Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) consortium. SkyCam is one of the Radiation and Dust Sensor (RDS) instruments that will monitor sky brightness over time in a variety of wavelengths and geometries in order to characterize Martian dust and the solar and thermal radiation environment. SkyCam will image the sky at varying times as part of the dust study, for cloud tracking and for astronomical imaging.

All the energy needed to operate the sensors and instruments the Perseverance Mars rover is provided by a power system called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) developed by Teledyne Energy Systems in Maryland, US.

“Teledyne’s space imaging heritage is unsurpassed, especially with the number of high TRL devices and the thousands of years of proven space flight. Of course, when it comes to missions to Mars, it as an especially proud moment to think of what the team at Teledyne can accomplish,” said Dr Miles Adcock – President Space and Quantum at Teledyne e2v,

The Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) has also developed pressure and humidity measurement devices for the MEDA system using HUMICAP and BAROCAP sensors from Vaisala in Vantaa, Finland.

The mission equipment complements the Curiosity rover. While working on Mars, the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers will form a small-scale observation network. The network is only the first step, anticipating the extensive observation network planned on Mars in the future.

“Mars, as well as Venus, the other sister planet of Earth, is a particularly important area of atmospheric investigations due to its similarities to Earth. Studying Mars helps us also better understand the behavior of Earth’s atmosphere,” said Maria Genzer, Head of Planetary Research and Space Technology group at FMI.

“We are honoured that Vaisala’s core sensor technologies have been selected to provide accurate and reliable measurement data on Mars. In line with our mission to enable observations for a better world, we are excited to be part of this collaboration. Hopefully the measurement technology will provide tools for finding answers to the most pressing challenges of our time, such as climate change,” said Liisa Åström, Vice President, Products and Systems of Vaisala.

The long-term stability and accuracy of the sensors, as well as the ability to tolerate dust, chemicals, and harsh environmental conditions, make them suitable for very demanding measurement needs, also in space. The same technology is used in numerous industrial and environmental applications such as weather stations, radiosondes, greenhouses and datacentres.

The Vaisala Humicap humidity sensor is a capacitive thin-film polymer sensor consisting of a substrate on which a thin film of polymer is deposited between two conductive electrodes. The humidity sensor onboard is a new generation sensor, with superior performance also in the low pressure conditions expected on the red planet.

The Barocap pressure sensors was customised to operate in the Martian climate. It uses a silicon-based micromechanical pressure sensor that offers reliable performance in a wide variety of applications, from meteorology to pressure sensitive industrial equipment in semiconductor industry and laboratory pressure standard measurements. Low hysteresis with high accuracy and long-term stability, both essential for measurements in space. 

Next: More space stories

“Our sensor technologies are used widely in demanding everyday measurement environments here on Earth. And why not – if they work on Mars, they will work anywhere,” said Åström.

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