PI controls motion on Mars lander | Automation.com

PI controls motion on Mars lander

PI controls motion on Mars lander

August 28, 2012 - When NASA decided to have piezo linear actuators from PI (Physik Instrumente) and positioning stages from miCos GmbH work together millions of miles away on the Mars rover Curiosity, both companies did not know that a down-to-earth collaboration lay in their near future. 

Endless tests and qualifications had to be passed, before the precision positioning equipment was sent on its long journey to Mars.  Failure was not an option, but cost definitely was an issue and budgets are tighter now than in the early days of space exploration.  Manufacturers with the best commercial off the shelf products (COTS), proven quality systems and the ability to make the necessary modifications for the tough space requirements are high on the list when it comes to providing the ingredients for a 21st century space mission.

CheMin Instrument: Piezo Stack Actuators for Sample Feed & Preparation
PI Physik Instrumente’s contribution to the Mars mission, the PI Ceramic monolithic piezo actuators (PICMA) were put to use in the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) described at http://msl-scicorner.jpl.nasa.gov/Instruments/CheMin

CheMin is an X-ray diffraction-capable mineralogy instrument whose purpose is to determine if water was present in the formation of Martian rocks and soil.

A sample handling system is required to feed mineral powder samples through a funnel into the individual sample cells.  The powder in the tunable sample cells must be shaken at variable amplitudes and frequencies in the range of 0.9 to 2.2 kHz to homogenize particle size or density segregations.  The precisely controlled vibrations are generated by PICMA multilayer piezo actuators from PI Ceramic.  These ceramic-encapsulated actuators emerged after rigorous tests by NASA’s JPL as the highest reliability piezo stacks commercially available.  Multiple samples passed 100 Billion cycles of life testing with no failures, maintaining greater than 96% of their performance at the end of the test.

ChemCam and the MT-40 Autofocus Positioning Stage by PI miCos
The instrument equipped with the PI miCos precision motorized positioning stage is called ChemCam (Chemistry and Camera instrument), consisting of a laser induced breakdown spectrometer and a high resolution imaging camera.

ChemCam determines through laser-based remote pretesting which rocks in the vicinity of the rover (distances up to 9 m) warrant a closer examination with in-situ instruments.

A specially modified and space qualified MT-40 linear positioning stage from PI miCos focuses the analyzing system at the desired distance by translating the secondary mirror of the telescope. Due to violent shocks and vibration during launch and landing, every component in the stage from the stepper motor to the crossed roller bearings and limit switches had to be closely examined and optimized to eliminate the possibility of failure or performance loss.  For fast and precise focusing, high resolution and linearity are required and backlash has to be controlled tightly -- not an easy task given the very wide operating temperature range of the instrument. Modeling and thermal compensation were used as well as special vacuum compatible lubricants for all moving parts.  In the end the modified stage passed all the tests and the decision to go with a COTS part for cost control reasons proved right.

Shortly before Curiosity left the Earth in November 2011, miCos joined the PI family of companies. Together they are now ready to take on any precision positioning challenge, in air, under high vacuum conditions on Earth and in locations as remote as Mars.
About PI

PI is a leading manufacturer of precision motion control equipment, piezo systems, piezo motors and actuators for semiconductor applications, photonics, bio-nano-technology and medical engineering. PI has been developing and manufacturing standard & custom precision products with piezoceramic and electromagnetic drives for 4 decades. The company has been ISO 9001 certified since 1994 and provides innovative, high-quality solutions for OEM and research. PI is present worldwide with 10 subsidiaries, R&D / engineering on 3 continents and total staff of 700+

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