As NASA's newest Mars Rover Perseverance dropped onto Mars Thursday afternoon team members at The Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC) Durham office held their breath.
"I mean, certainly there is a lot of anticipation," explained Jeff Mobley, SNC Director of Engineering for the Durham Operation. "I mean everything gets fully tested out and vetted before it ever gets put on the spacecraft to go to Mars so, you know, we have extremely high confidence this is going to work. But, you know," Mobley added.
Mobley is a proud NCSU graduate who has been with SNC for sixteen years. "We as a division, design custom products for space," he explained. SNC's work on Perseverance marks the 14th mission to Mars supported by SNC. For the Perseverance Mission, SNC provided eight unique components that have been used in 17 applications on the rover. They're used in the robotic arm, turret coring drill, and catching assembly.
One of the mechanisms SNC and Mobley's team created is the set brake, which controls how fast the Perseverance Rover drops on its tethered line from the sky crane down to the surface of Mars.
NASA's Perseverance rover lands on Mars to look for signs of ancient life
"During the last few seconds of the seven minutes of terror that JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) calls it, and so that if it drops too fast, it'll hit the surface too hard," Mobley explained. "If it drops too slow the sky crane runs out of fuel and then crashes so it's really crucial to the actual landing of the rover on the surface of Mars."
On the surface of Mars, Perseverance will search for signs of ancient life by collecting samples and data. Mobley's team at SNC created robotics that will directly help with drilling and processing of those critical samples which will eventually return to Earth and can assist in the future of human exploration of the planet.
SNC also provided applications for a helicopter named Ingenuity that is on board Perseverance. Ingenuity will test the first controlled flight on another planet.
"We will help deploy the first helicopter that can fly on another planet," said Mobley.
SNC continues working to support NASA currently working on a mission to bring back samples from Perseverance.
Durham company plays pivotal role in NASA's Perseverance Rover Mission to Mars