Work was conducted to validate the use of the rover external flexible coaxial cabling for space under the extreme environments to be encountered during the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. The antennas must survive all ground operations plus the nominal 670-Martian-day mission that includes summer and winter seasons of the Mars environment.
Successful development of processes established coaxial cable hardware fatigue limits, which were well beyond the expected in-flight exposures. In keeping with traditional qualification philosophy, this was accomplished by subjecting flight-representative coaxial cables to temperature cycling of the same depth as expected in-flight, but for three times the expected number of in-flight thermal cycles.
Insertion loss and return loss tests were performed on the coaxial cables during the thermal chamber breaks. A vector network analyzer was calibrated and operated over the operational frequency range 7.145 to 8.450 GHz. Even though some of the exposed cables function only at UHF frequencies (approximately 400 MHz), the testing was more sensitive, and extending the test range down to 400 MHz would have cost frequency resolution.
The Gore flexible coaxial cables, which were the subject of these tests, proved to be robust and displayed no sign of degradation due to the 3X exposure to the punishing Mars surface operations cycles.