Tech Briefs

Rover Low Gain Antenna Qualification for Deep Space Thermal Environments

A method to qualify the Rover Low Gain Antenna (RLGA) for use during the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission has been devised. The RLGA antenna must survive all ground operations, plus the nominal 670 Martian sol mission that includes the summer and winter seasons of the Mars thermal environment. This qualification effort was performed to verify that the RLGA design, its bonding, and packaging processes are adequate.

The qualification test was designed to demonstrate a survival life of three times more than all expected ground testing, plus a nominal 670 Martian sol missions. Baseline RF tests and a visual inspection were performed on the RLGA hardware before the start of the qualification test. Functional intermittent RF tests were performed during thermal chamber breaks over the course of the complete qualification test. For the return loss measurements, the RLGA antenna was moved to a test area. A vector network analyzer was calibrated over the operational frequency range of the antenna. For the RLGA, a simple return loss measurement was performed.

A total of 2,010 (3×670 or 3 times mission thermal cycles) thermal cycles was performed. Visual inspection of the RLGA hardware did not show any anomalies due to the thermal cycling. The return loss measurement results of the RLGA antenna after the PQV (Package Qualification and Verification) test did not show any anomalies. The antenna pattern data taken before and after the PQV test at the uplink and downlink frequencies were unchanged. Therefore, the developed design of RLGA is qualified for a long-duration MSL mission.

This work was done by Rajeshuni Ramesham, Luis R. Amaro, Paula R. Brown, and Robert Usiskin of Caltech; and Jack L. Prater of Polytechnic High School for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48500

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