TA&T Ceramic Stereolithographically Produced Parts Integral to Instrument Package on NASA Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity Rover
Annapolis, MD – November 29, 2011 – Ceramic Stereolithography (CSL), a unique manufacturing process developed by Technology Assessment and Transfer, Inc. (TA&T) under multiple SBIR and internally funded programs, was used to make ceramic heater bodies that are onboard the recently launched Mars rover named Curiosity.
Contracted by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, TA&T fabricated alumina pyrolysis oven housings that are being used in the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments. Patrick Jordan, a NASA engineer, explained that due to the complex nature of the housing, traditional machining of the ceramic was too expensive to undertake. The major impediment to machining the housing is a series of 52 closely spaced, small diameter (.012”) holes through which heating elements are placed. Impressively, the CSL process was able to create fully functional prototypes that survived the rapid heating to >1,000°C. The parts passed thermal shock and thermal cycle durability testing, and will be used on Mars to heat soil samples to determine the presence of water and organic compounds that indicate the possibility of life on Mars.
The CSL process has applications beyond space exploration, including those which have consumer and industrial applications. The process requires no tooling and therefore allows rapid prototyping of fully-functional ceramic parts. TA&T has been involved in the development of rocket engine fuel injectors, heat exchangers for cooling electronics in hybrid electric vehicles, ceramic molds for turbine engine blades, and electrosurgical medical device tips, among other development projects.
Photographs of the TA&T produced ceramic heater housing for the Mars Science Laboratory can be found in the Ceramic Stereolithography gallery.
Additional information about the Mars Science Laboratory mission can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html.