The Gear Works Goes To Mars

Friday, August 14th, 2009

The Gear Works is proud to have participated in NASA’s exploration project that successfully deployed two robots to the planet Mars last January. The government’s research and development facility, Jet Propulsion Laboratories of Pasadena, California, was responsible for design and construction of the space vehicles, called Landers, and the mobile geology labs, called Rovers, which were contained in the Landers. The $820,000,000 Mars Exploration Mission was designed to reveal the role of water in the planet’s history, and to determine if it may have ever sparked any form of life.

Artist’s rendition of Lander’s descent to Martian surface

Artist’s rendition of Lander’s descent to Martian surface

On January 3rd, 2004, the first Lander touched down on the surface of Mars carrying the Rover “Spirit”. 22 days later, a second Lander successfully delivered the Rover “Opportunity”. Each Lander plus Rover weighs approximately 1200 pounds on Earth, but only 437 pounds on Mars.

Photo of hobbing spline on actuator torque tube

Photo of hobbing spline on actuator torque tube

The Gear Works was commissioned by Jet Propulsion Laboratories to manufacture the torque tubes used in the Lander petal actuators. Each 10” long tube was machined from a special titanium alloy, and consisted of an internal spline on one end, and an external 22 tooth 12/24 D.P. “crowned” spline on the opposite end. The torque tubes were heat treated to achieve a through hardness of approximately 40Rc., and required intricate machining procedures to maintain strict dimensional tolerances.

Schematic drawing of Mars Lander showing "petal" actuator torque tube

Schematic drawing of Mars Lander showing "petal" actuator torque tube

The Mars Lander is a strong, lightweight structure consisting of a base and three sides, or “petals”, in the shape of a tetrahedron. Each petal is independently hinged to the Lander base, and is driven through the torque tube by a powerful actuator motor that is strong enough to lift the weight of the entire Lander loaded with the Rover. Having a motor on each petal ensured that the Rover could be moved to an upright position, no matter which side the Lander came to rest after touch down. Once upright, the remaining petals were opened to level the Lander, and to provide a pathway for the Rover to drive onto the Martian surface.

Photo of Lander assembly at Jet Propulsion Laboratories

Photo of Lander assembly at Jet Propulsion Laboratories

The Gear Works congratulates the dedicated people of Jet Propulsion Laboratories on the successful execution of this very complex planetary mission.

The next time your gearing application requires service that’s out of this world, give The Gear Works a call.


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