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Power tech in the Perseverance Mars rover

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty


The Perseverance Mars rover has launched with a range of innovative power technologies.

IR HiRel, an Infineon Technologies company, is supplying rad hard power devices for various instruments on Perseverance. 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 honored to have our semiconductor technologies used to power up this spacecraft.”

The flight computer, motor control, radar and mission instrument suite all integrate rad hard MOSFETs, ICs and other power control products.

Specific rover instruments that contain 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.

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.

Renesas’ Intersil rad-hard ICs are also used throughout the rover and its seven instruments. They support subsystems for mission critical applications in power management and distribution, inertial measurement unit, precision data handling and processing, and navigation and flight entry, descent, and landing control. A wide range of Intersil rad-hard solutions are used including voltage regulators and references, synchronous buck and LDO regulators, PWM controllers, MOSFET drivers, 16-channel multiplexer, SPST switch, RS-422 line transmitters and receivers, and microprocessor supervisory circuits.

“Our innovative Intersil brand rad-hard-ICs continue to play a key role in NASA JPL’s ongoing Mars exploration missions, which has energized a new generation of engineers, scientists and astronauts,” said Philip Chesley, Vice President, Industrial and Communications Business Division at Renesas

Thermal management material developer Kulr Technology is also supplying systems on the Mars rover.

The SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environment with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) system uses custom-designed phase change heat sinks designed to absorb and mitigate rapid temperature changes, keeping sensitive components such as lasers and sensors within desired temperature ranges to avoid signal distortion or other complications.

SHERLOC is mounted on the robotic arm of the Mars rover and use spectrometers, a laser, and a camera to search for organics and minerals that may be signs of past microbial life.  The heart sinks use a highly conductive vertical carbon fibre architecture with a material similar to wax that can change from solid to liquid while absorbing high amounts of heat energy.

A pair of Kulr heat sinks were designed to accept 5400 Joules of heat for over one-hour operating time while keeping the temperature of the spectrometer detector within design limits.  

“Detecting life on Mars has profound implications that can change how humanity perceives its place in the universe,” said Dr. Timothy Knowles, CTO of Kulr Technology who has worked on NASA projects for decades. “Leveraging discoveries from past Mars missions, the 2020 Perseverance incorporates the most advanced engineering design to improve entry, descent, landing, camera, and sensor capability. The same is true for thermal design. Perseverance represents the apex of aerospace engineering and Kulr is happy to be part of its history.”

“The Kulr team has been an essential part of many of our projects in the last two decades,” said Mike Pauken, Spacecraft Thermal Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab. “We’re happy to be working with them and incorporating their thermal solutions as part of the SHERLOC Instrument on the upcoming Mars 2020 Rover Mission.”

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