The Atlas V rocket thrusts the launch vehicle from the launch pad and propels it free of earth’s gravitational force and out into the dark and unforgiving environment of space. 254 days later the spacecraft begins a landing sequence that includes a steered free fall, a parachute descent, a rocket powered deceleration, then a tethered drop to the surface of the planet.
The launch date was 26 November 2011 and the vehicle within the spacecraft was the Mars Science Laboratory, aptly named Curiosity.
II-VI Marlow’s Thermoelectric Module Helps Cool Sensors In Mars Rover
Curiosity carried the largest (more than 10 times as massive as earlier rovers) and the most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the surface of Mars. Its on-going mission to determine the habitability of Mars is dependent on the reliable operation of sophisticated and innovative instruments in an inhospitable environment where ambient temperatures can range from +86°F to -197°F.
One of the instruments on Curiosity representing the first active remote-sensing device sent to Mars is the ChemCam. This instrument uses laser pulses to vaporize thin layers of materials from rocks or soil and three CCD spectrometers to analyze the types of atoms excited by the beam. In addition, ChemCam serves as a passive spectrometer to measure the composition of the planet surface and atmosphere.
Cooling each of the CCD spectrometers in the ChemCam is a II-VI Marlow Industries 2-stage thermoelectric (TE) module. II-VI Marlow product development engineers worked with scientists and engineers from JPL to develop a cooling solution that would enable ChemCam to make material composition analyses and to make more rapid analyses of targets and results to allow planners to make much more informed decisions about examining targets in further detail.
II-VI Marlow’s ChemCam TE module design approach took into consideration the harsh environmental and the mechanical forces that the TE modules would encounter during spacecraft liftoff from earth, travel through space, the Mars landing sequence and operation on the Martian surface for at least one Martian year (687 Earth days). TE module design considerations included the specific thermoelectric material type/process, the individual element size and count, ceramic material, the type of solder and process used to build the TE module, and the overall TE module size. The II-VI Marlow team then worked with the JPL team to incorporate the three individual TE modules into an assembly that could be integrated onto the Curiosity platform with the necessary mechanical, electrical and thermal interfaces.
II-VI Marlow has the industries only space qualification process for TE modules. This process defines a set of procedures and guidelines for processing the materials, building the TE modules and assembly, and performing the functional, acceptance and flight test programs. Material traceability and lot controls, special inspection steps and a higher level of documentation control, and additional testing help insure the TE modules that are designed, built, tested and delivered for the space mission are the high reliability product required for long-term operation in the space environment.
II-VI Marlow TE modules are on numerous space program platforms providing reliable, long-term performance. You won’t see these modules on the news or in mission photos but rest assured they are there, taking the stress, the heat and cold, and continuing to operate.
Whether you’re exploring outer space, working to develop the next cure for cancer or finding sustainable energy solutions, let us partner with you to help reach your goal. For specific information, contact II-VI Marlow and we will assist with the application and cooler selection.