NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Rover “Curiosity” is the biggest rover to roam the Red Planet, measuring almost the size of a standard car. The rover is expected to land on Mars this summer, joining Opportunity, which has been exploring the planet since 2004. Working with engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, Helical Products’ engineering team designed and manufactured both flexible couplings and machined springs for Curiosity.
Among the parts is a custom flexible coupling to be used in the vibration mechanism in the Sample Acquisition & Sample Processing and Handling (SADPaH) subsystem at the end of the robotic arm. This system, located at the front of the rover, is responsible for gathering soil samples from Mars’ rocky surface. Vibration, aided by the flexible coupling, is used to pass the powder through sifters and ultimately through the sampling system. From there, these particles are then processed and examined with the rover’s analytical instruments.
In addition to the couplings, Curiosity is equipped with several Helical machined springs, which are used as a locking hatch in the hinge mechanism. Once the rover is deployed on Mars, the hinge rotates and the latch locks it in place. The spring was designed to meet NASA’s requirements for compression and lateral translation spring rates, end attachments, and titanium material for its lightweight characteristics. The double-start flexure design adds redundancy and confidence that the spring will operate the latch — a major concern for the rover, since parts won’t be serviceable.