Connectors Provide Signal Reliability for Mars Science Laboratory
- Created: Thursday, 01 January 2009
Compact PCI (cPCI) Connectors
Hypertronics’ space-grade Compact PCI (cPCI) connectors were selected by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for use on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which is scheduled to launch in 2009. Incorporating the Hypertac® “Basket of Wires” contact technology, the connectors will be instrumental in all phases of the mission including lift-off, navigation, entry, descent, landing, roaming, and geological survey. Behind these embedded systems are single-board computers connected together through common back planes that handle all control functions and analysis for the MSL rover. All systems and components must exceed the long and difficult journey to Mars, as well as the extreme surface operation of one Martian year, equal to two Earth years.
The connectors underwent rigorous testing at NASA involving extreme environmental conditions including thermal excursions, corrosive atmospheres, and excessive vibration. The connectors surpassed NASA’s expectations for shock and vibration and resulted in Goddard Space Flight Center specification S-311-P-822.
The connectors feature a hyperboloid wire basket socket, distinguished by the shape of the contact sleeve and formed by wires strung at an angle to the socket axis. When a pin is inserted into this sleeve, the wires stretch around it, providing a number of linear contact paths, extending the contact area to 360º around the pin. The low mass and resultant low inertia of the wires enable them to follow abrupt or extreme excursions of the pin without loss of contact, eliminating fretting. Contact fretting, a leading cause of connector failure, is wear caused by the repetitive motion between tight-fitting, load-bearing surfaces and is accompanied by oxidation-related corrosion manifested as interface pits or grooves.
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