Motion System Design
Cables help robot arm flex muscles on Mars

Cables help robot arm flex muscles on Mars

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), set to launch in 2011, is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term robotic exploration of the red planet. MSL is a rover that will assess whether Mars’ environment can support, or has supported, microbial life — thereby determining the planet’s habitability. Essential to this mission is the MSL’s robotic arm that holds and maneuvers the instruments that help scientists explore the Martian rocks and soil. Running the arm is a custom-formed cable assembly from Cicoil Inc., Valencia, Calif., that conducts power, signals, and video from the instruments to the main electronics within the rover’s body. Cicoil’s 6-in.-wide custom flat cable is now undergoing testing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

The unique cable carries shielded power, signal, and high performance video signals, in the continuously flexing robotic arm. Custom contour forming of the cable assembly allows JPL engineers to fit the cabling along the actual shape of the robotic arm, providing a clean design, without cables interfering with the flexibility of the robotic testing. The cables are designed to last tens of millions of continuous flexing cycles.

In addition to fit and flexing issues, the arm is undergoing extreme environmental testing, including high heat, freezing cold, sand, salt, fog, and water. One of the key challenges is to test cable function while being exposed to blowing, red “Mars Sand” — the extremely fine, abrasive sand found on Mars. Cicoil encapsulates its cable conductors in silicone, which renders them unaffected by severe vibration, G-Forces, shaking motion, extreme temperatures, water, shock, and the rigors of supersonic flight. A specialized silicone jacket functions as a shock-absorbing material, completely surrounding and supporting each individual component.

For more information, visit Cicoil Inc.

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