Spaceflight Motors, Gearboxes, Actuators and Mechanisms

Our engineers’ experience with designing actuators, gearboxes and deployment mechanisms for Mars Missions is unparalleled going back nearly two decades, encompassing four programs with over 50 mechanisms alone on the Mars Exploration Rover program.

Mars Phoenix Lander

Phoenix lander with Rocketstar Engineers' Contributions
Rocketstar Robotics' engineers' contributions to Phoenix:

1. Camera Pointing Mechanism Elevation
2. Camera Pointing Mechanism Azimuth

NASA's $420 million Phoenix mission is aimed at an icy, flat region of northern Mars known as Vastitas Borealis. There, the lander is expected to use its eight-foot (2.4-meter) robotic arm like a backhoe to carve out samples of the surrounding Martian soil and ice. The samples will be analyzed by onboard ovens, cameras, microscopes and a wet chemistry laboratory to determine their chemical makeup.

Researchers are hoping to learn whether the icy terrain has preserved any organic molecules or compounds within the Martian soil, which may prove useful in determining whether the area may have once been habitable for microbial life. Phoenix also carries a laser ranging and detection tool and other instruments mounted to a meteorology mast to study the arctic weather on Mars.

Much of Phoenix's structure and seven-suite science package were developed for or recycled from NASA's canceled Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander and the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander, which was lost during its 1999 descent to the Martian surface. This includes camera pointing mechanisms developed by Rocketstar Robotics engineers.  Phoenix scientists hope their probe will recover some science lost from the 1999 mission's failure.

Mars Exploration Rovers

MER Rover with Rocketstar Engineers' Contributions
Rocketstar Robotics' engineers' contributions to MER:

1. Camera Pointing Mechanism Transmission
2. Camera Pointing Mechanism Transmission
3. IDD Azimuth (Robot Arm Shoulder) Planetary
4. IDD Elevation (Robot Arm Shoulder) Planetary
5. Antenna Gimbal Planetary
6. Antenna Gimbal Planetary
7. Solar Array Deployment Planetary
8. Rocker Deployment Planetary
9. Rover Suspension Differential
10. Wheel Steering Planetary
11. Wheel Driving Planetary
12. Wheel Driving Planetary
13. Wheel Driving Planetary
14. Wheel Steering Planetary
15. Wheel Driving Planetary
16. Wheel Steering Planetary
17. Wheel Driving Planetary
18. Wheel Driving Planetary
19. Wheel Steering Planetary
20. Rock Abrasion Tool Planetary
21. IDD Turret (Robot Arm Manipulator) Planetary
22. Rover Suspension Planetary
23. IDD (Robot Arm) Elbow Planetary
24. Pancam Mast Deployment Transmission
25. Pancam Azimuth Transmission
26. Pancam Azimuth Twist Capsule
27. Pancam Elevation Transmission

The Mars Exploration Rover program was the most ambitious mission ever undertaken to explore another planet. Two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were sent to Mars to increase the probability of a successful program. Engineers currently at Rocketstar Robotics are proud to have made a major contribution to the MER program with engineering design responsibility for over 50 MER mechanisms. Some of the mechanisms include nearly every planetary gearbox used on the rovers as well as many of the mechanisms used for articulation of the Pancam mast and cameras as well as a 130 circuit twist capsule at the base of the Pancam with over 360 degrees of rotation. The gearboxes and components supplied for MER have performed admirably allowing Spirit and Opportunity to last over 9 times their planned lifetimes. The planetary gearboxes supplied for the rover wheels have seen over 13 million input revolutions without a gearbox failure.

MVACS

MVACS with Rocketstar Engineers' Contributions
Rocketstar Robotics' engineers' contributions to MVACS:

1. Azimuth Camera Pointing Actuator
2. Elevation Camera Pointing Actuator
3. Robotic Arm Azimuth Motor
4. Robotic Arm Elevation Motor
5. Robotic Arm Elbow Motor
6. Robotic Arm Manipulator Motors

Following on the success of the Mars Pathfinder program JPL once again requested our engineers be instrumental in the mechanical design of the several of the actuators for the Mars Volatiles and Climate Surveyor (MVACS) program. Engineers currently at Rocketstar Robotics were responsible for the mechanical design of the camera pointing actuators as well as the motors used to operate each axis of the robotic arm. The camera pointing actuators were of a similar design configuration to those used on Pathfinder but the robot arm motors were a new brush motor configuration designed specifically for the low pressure CO2 environment. Unfortunately the vehicle was lost during the landing sequence.

Mars Pathfinder

Pathfinder with Rocketstar Engineers' Contributions
Rocketstar Robotics' engineers' contributions to the
Mars Pathfinder Mission:

1. Azimuth Camera Pointing Actuator
2. Elevation Camera Pointing Actuator
3. Airbag Retraction Actuator Planetary Gearbox
4. Airbag Retraction Actuator Planetary Gearbox
5. Airbag Retraction Actuator Planetary Gearbox
6. Airbag Retraction Actuator Planetary Gearbox
7. Airbag Retraction Actuator Planetary Gearbox
8. Airbag Retraction Actuator Planetary Gearbox
9. High Gain Antenna Gimbal

Mars Pathfinder was the first opportunity for engineers currently at Rocketstar Robotics to have design responsibility for components on a Mars lander. Our engineering talent was responsible for the mechanical design of the airbag retraction actuator gearboxes, the camera pointing mechanisms and the high gain antenna gimbal.  The five stage planetary gearboxes for the airbag retraction actuators was used to retract the airbags used to cushion the impact of the landing.

The camera pointing mechanisms provided the imager for Mars Pathfinder with pointing capability in both azimuth and elevation and  featured permanent magnet stepper motors and three stage planetary gearboxes.  The same exact units were then flown on Mars Polar Lander (MVACS) and most recently on the Mars Phoenix Lander.

Pathfinder High Gain Antenna Gimbal
Douglas Packard, Rocketstar Robotics Chief Technical Officer
was responsible for the design of the Mars Pathfinder High Gain
Antenna Gimbal while at JPL

Another critical aspect of the Mars Pathfinder program that engineers now at Rocketstar Robotics can claim design responsibility for is the High Gain Antenna Gimbal for Pathfinder.  This critical mechanism provided antenna pointing for the critical communications link between pathfinder and earth.  This engineering and design was done our Chief Technical Officer, Douglas Packard, while he was employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

 

Mars Observer

Mars Observer with Rocketstar Engineers' Contributions
Rocketstar Robotics' engineers' contributions to the
Mars Observer Mission:

1. Six Span Latching Deployment Hinge
2. Six Span Latching Deployment Hinge
3. Four Span Latching Deployment Hinge
4. Four Span Latching Deployment Hinge
5. Interpanel Latching Deployment Hinge
6. Interpanel Latching Deployment Hinge
7. Interpanel Latching Deployment Hinge
8. Interpanel Latching Deployment Hinge
9. 90 Degree Latching Boom Deployment Hinge
10. 180 Degree Latching Boom Deployment Hinge
11. Shear Tie Launch Restraints and Releases (8)
12. Interpanel Latching Deployment Hinge
13. Interpanel Latching Deployment Hinge

Rocketstar Robotics engineering talent had its first exposure to Mars mission work between 1987 and 1990 with the Mars Observer program. Mars Observer was designed to study Mars from orbit. Engineers currently at Rocketstar Robotics were responsible for the design of the solar panel deployment system for the Mars Observer spacecraft. The system provided a multiaxis passive deployment that was commanded in two phases. The first phase of deployment occurred during the transit to Mars and the second phase occurred after Mars orbit insertion. Each hinge axis featured latching features that eliminated hinge play passively. The system also included the design of eight shear tie stacks that restrained the system at launch and their associated release mechanisms. Unfortunately the vehicle was lost due to failures unrelated to the mechanisms.