NASA engineers and scientists saw years of design work come to fruition when the Mars rover Curiosity, a 2,000-lb feat of excellence, settled onto the red planet in a gentle touchdown of glory.
But it wasn’t just the efforts of NASA personnel that gave humanity that moment—and every other win in the thousand-plus days that Curiosity has successfully documented Mars terrain. Scores of suppliers (among them many motion-component manufacturers) also saw their designs succeed.
In our inaugural edition of this Design World Motion Casebook, we profile applications that showcase this kind of engineering excellence. Read through this Casebook, and you’ll discover how smart bearings could soon improve rail and wind-turbine applications … and how customengineered conveyors and robots are leading warehouse automation in packaging. You’ll also see how smart motors power next-generation peristaltic pumps to circulate blood without pulsations.
Reconsider Curiosity. As details about its design (including some of its bearings, actuators, and software) continue to go public, we cover the technical details.
For example, we now know that tubular piezo stacks from Physik Instrumente (PI)
are on the rover and still working perfectly, currently helping in the collection of soil samples from the red planet’s Gale Crater. The solid-state actuators go on a Chemistry & Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument to help scoop Mars dirt into test chambers and dump it out when tests are done. Conventional polymer-insulated piezo actuators would’ve been too sensitive to humidity and temperature extremes on Mars. But PI’s ceramic encapsulation (cofiring that puts piezo-elements in monolithic blocks) makes the actuators more durable. In fact, PI PICMA actuators with the same design now work for nanopositioning systems in semiconductor test and inspection, super-resolution microscopy, and bionanotechnology.
Even simpler power-transmission components on Curiosity demonstrate design merit. Consider the DU metalpolymer bearings in Curiosity’s soil drill. GGB Bearing Technology made the self-lubricating bearings to function in Mars temperatures from -328° to +536° F. That’s important because DU bearing segments function as the main drillspindle component.
Curiosity engineers tapped motionindustry resources on the software side as well. They used Adams multi-body dynamics software from MSC to design Curiosity’s descent and landing. Simulating of touchdown details helped them prevent flight hardware from banging during breakaway of a Descent Rate Limiter and bridle deployment.
Other aerospace projects exhibit motion-design brilliance. Just turn to page 61 of this Casebook, where we detail how encoders on a Sentinel-1A satellite support inter-satellite laser communications. Or consider how the European space probe Rosetta recently landed on the comet Chury, and an array of dc motors from maxon motor helped the craft do its job.
Even seemingly futuristic technologies in recent Hollywood blockbuster The Martian already exist. The movie dramatizes a Mars
habitat that strongly resembles the real Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. HERA is a simulated deepspace habitat for ISS-bound astronauts. It’s complete with two stories of living quarters, hygiene module, workspaces and airlock. Other technologies in the movie for water recovery, rovers, space farming, oxygen generation and ion propulsion also exist.
To be sure, aerospace applications are challenging, so are subject to failures. An experimental NASA cubesat recently showed altitude-control issues; the SpaceX CRS-7 mission earlier this year (to resupply the ISS) failed after an explosion originating from a liquid oxygen tank; defective pressure gauges recently delayed the launch of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2016 mission. Despite such challenges and in celebration of those averted, may we let today’s applications in aerospace and other motion industries bring us inspiration, and let us welcome the technologies they kindle tomorrow.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense, DIGITAL ISSUES, Motion control • motor controls