Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

University of Tennessee Engineering Team Develops Chip for Mars Rover

10.08.2012
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Rover “Curiosity” would have a hard time completing its mission if it were not for a successful partnership between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor-student team at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Ben Blalock, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and two graduate students — Stephen Terry, now an alumnus, and Robert Greenwell — designed a tiny microchip that weighs close to a paper clip and helps control the motors on the rover.

There are about 80 of these Quad Operational Amplifier (op amp) microchips powering the rover's 40 motors. Without them, the rover would not be able to traverse the Martian surface, collect samples with its robotic arm, or maneuver the cameras for sending back pictures of the Red Planet — all central to the mission of finding clues of Mars being able to sustain microbial life.

"These analog chips are in the motor controller electronics that make the camera move, pan around, go up and down," said Blalock. "They also make the robotic arms move around and operate the wheels on the rover. All these things require motors."

Although op amps are common in consumer electronics, this analog microchip is unique in that it can withstand 500 days of potential radiation exposure and temperatures ranging from minus 180 degrees Celsius to positive 120 degrees Celsius, more than sufficient for the minus 120 degrees Celsius to positive 20 degrees Celsius temperature swings on the Martian surface each day. The chip underwent rigorous testing, such as operating in thermal ovens, to ensure it could withstand the elements.

"We not only had to design it to meet the Martian surface environment requirements, we also had to overdesign it to operate in environments even colder than minus 120 degrees Celsius to help enable reuse of the microchip for other extreme environment robotic missions in the future," said Blalock.

The researcher says the innovation represents a paradigm shift in the application of extreme environment electronics in space avionics, possibly opening up the field of space exploration.

"Now, we have access to electronics that are capable of operating out in the ambient," Blalock said. "This gives us a lot of opportunities that did not exist in the past because we had to worry about their functionality. NASA eventually hopes to go beyond Mars and possibly send rovers to asteroids and moons of planets."

Using these chips enabled more electronic systems to be implemented on Curiosity’s exterior, which helped minimize cabling headaches on the rover and made room for the addition of more scientific instrumentation. This is providing NASA's scientists even more information about the Red Planet.

UT and JPL had worked together in the past, so when JPL needed help designing electrical circuits for Curiosity, they gave Blalock and his Integrated Circuits and System Laboratory team the opportunity. JPL engineers worked in lock-step with Blalock's team yielding success for Curiosity.

Blalock and his students worked on the chip from 2004 to 2007. To see their hard work finally come to fruition is very fulfilling.

"I'm thrilled that the students had this opportunity," said the professor. "It helps them grow as circuit designers and makes them more marketable. They were able to do a level of analog chip design that far exceeds whatever they would be called upon to do in the commercial industry. I know for a fact we're one of the very few university teams—if not the only university team—that's been able to develop space flight microelectronic hardware."

Two other professors, Linda Kah and Jeffrey Moersch, associate professors in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, are also working on the mission.

The Curiosity launched on November 26, 2011, and landed on Mars on Monday.

Whitney Heins | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.utk.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>