Machine Design

Miniature orifices headed for Mars

Tiny 0.0004-in. orifices will help produce oxygen on the surface of Mars.

At 0.0004 in., what may be the smallest standard precision jewel orifices are headed to Mars. The tiny orifices, produced by Bird Precision, Waltham, Mass., are so small they are invisible to the naked eye and must be machined using a fine laser beam.

The miniature orifices are key components of an Oxygen Generator System (OGS), designed to produce oxygen on the Martian surface from the planet's atmospheric carbon dioxide. A team of engineers from Mars In Situ Propulsion Production (ISSP) at the Space Technologies Lab of the University of Arizona head the project. The team was required to use only standard OEM parts for the unit and found that two of the 0.0004-in. orifices met their needs. They chose the ruby orifices not only for their size, but also composition. Synthetic ruby is virtually wear and heat resistant. Plus, Bird's manufacturing process offers regulated and consistent flow through a burr-free hole. The OGS unit will travel to Mars for a scheduled 2001 landing. The ultimate goal is to generate enough oxygen to sustain life for scientists who may someday explore the planet's surface.

The orifices, ranging in size from 0.0004 to 0.081 in ID, offer zero porosity, high temperature tolerance, and wear resistance. They are available with a filter and in a variety of custom or stock fittings and connector housings. Other uses of precision orifices include instrumentation, aerospace, and medical applications.

Information for this article was provided by Bird Precision, Waltham, Mass.

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