NASA’s Perseverance Rover landed on Mars yesterday. Once it landed a visual feed showed the Earth the surface of Mars in close-to real time. The camera cables were assembled by Alysium, who supply specialised industrial machine vision applications, and are headquartered in Germany. Mathew Simons, Director of Alysium, reflects on the process that culminated in Alysium’s cable being used for NASA’s mission to Mars.
This mission has justifiably captured the world’s attention, especially as we approached the landing date on February 18. Just imagining the various steps of the landing sequence occurring on another planet outside the reach of immediate communications, is awe inspiring. Visual feeds are coming from another planet with a reasonable delay due to the large distances that even the speed of light cannot overcome instantly. This project site really is a long way out…
NASA’s deployment of Perseverance represents an awe-inspiring milestone. I reflect on how much care and attention our teams dedicate to small things like a sealing grommet design in an automotive application, or the tolerance of a stamped locking bracket for a machine vision termination, then project this onto this Mars Mission. Considering the number of distinct components in this project, one can only imagine the scale of the effort employed is perhaps as significant as the distances involved. My sincere accolade to all involved.
When the enquiry for camera cable assemblies for this project first found its way onto our Engineering Project Review List, initiated through our partnership with the leading camera manufacturer, the meeting soundtrack was initially more akin to a teenager’s party! Following the excitement, we followed the usual process of documenting all requirements and subsequently ensuring their accuracy and thoroughness with all stakeholders. For this project, beyond the obvious considerations such as extreme reliability, durability, weight and temperature resistance, there were also unique product considerations. An example was the avoidance of risks of contamination for the collected samples from the planet’s surface. Specifically, the use of plastics in components, such as those used in moulded cable assembly terminations, exhibit outgassing to some degree. When subjected to a vacuum, this property is accelerated. Our solution for this, and indeed for the other requirements, was the use of our A+ die cast metal shells, which usually find use in demanding Machine Vision systems.
To ensure success, we also need to make sure that our testing methods are sufficient to confirm fulfilment of the documented requirements. For absolute reliability, it is not sufficient to achieve a condition where the system “only” works. Considering the many system variables, we design and qualify our products to achieve a higher performance threshold. This means that there must be enough headroom to overcome any tolerances in the electrical properties associated with the hardware itself, the influence of the external environment or the strains during handling and use. Qualifying material, through proving system operation at room temperature in the lab, is insufficient, does not provide the necessary guarantees to ensure enhanced reliability.
Alysium is here to support your demanding requirements, whether in a constricted setting (small termination designs), in a large piece of machinery (extended length or high flex assemblies), at high temperatures or with ultra-reliable demands (for example, far, far away on a Mars Rover). We look forward to a successful mission for Perseverance and many high-resolution images from the red planet, including those which have been transmitted through our assemblies!