NASA’s Perseverance Pays Off Back Home

A laser-gentle sensor that can determine microbes in a wound may perhaps audio considerably-fetched, but it’s already turning into a fact, many thanks in part to NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. The technologies is going to Mars for the 1st time on Perseverance, which will contact down on the Red Planet in February, but it’s already detecting trace contaminants in pharmaceutical producing, wastewater treatment, and other critical operations on Earth.

That’s not the only technologies headed to Mars that is already paying dividends on the ground. Here on Earth, these improvements are also improving circuit board producing and even led to a special drill bit style for geologists.

NASA has been checking out Mars considering the fact that the 1960s, pushing the frontier of innovation to get to the red earth and find out its tricks. This new technologies has usually uncovered other takes advantage of in this article on Earth as well. A handful of highlights can be viewed on the infographic. Credits: NASA

Providing Geologists a Break

Honeybee Robotics has been functioning on robotic missions to Mars and other planetary bodies considering the fact that the nineties, which include a selection of assignments funded by Compact Business enterprise Innovation Analysis (SBIR) contracts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. One of the essential contributions to appear from that do the job has been sample collection technologies, which include a drill bit for extracting rock cores. Half a dozen coring bits produced from research that started off a lot more than 20 many years ago are now in space for the 1st time, completely ready for use in the rover’s turret, or “hand,” at the stop of its robotic arm.

On Earth, following drilling a core with a hollow bit, a geologist ordinarily takes advantage of a screwdriver or other resource to break the sample off and pull it out. This can outcome in a fragmented or even contaminated sample. A robot demanded some thing distinct.

New York-primarily based Honeybee arrived up with a breakoff tube nested within just a coring bit. After the core has been drilled, the breakoff tube rotates relative to the bit, shifting its central axis and snapping off the core. Contrary to other breakoff techniques, these kinds of as pinching the foundation of the core, the breakoff tube applies tension together the size of the sample, minimizing the possibility of fragmentation.

Honeybee has supplied grinders, scoops, and other sampling techniques that flew on preceding Mars missions. This is the 1st time the company’s coring bit technologies is going to Mars, since it’s the 1st time NASA has planned a long run mission to carry samples of the Martian area back again to Earth. Perseverance will accumulate and offer these samples.

“It’s the essential part of the sample return mission,” mentioned Keith Rosette, who managed the rover’s sampling and caching method for JPL. “You genuinely just can’t accumulate a sample on Mars if you really don’t have a drill bit that can retrieve it.”

Although finding a sample return car home from Mars will pose a host of challenges, it will permit researchers do practically limitless tests with a vast array of instruments, Rosette mentioned. “Rather than attempting to carry all these instruments to Mars, it’s fewer demanding and even a lot more useful to carry samples back again.”

In the meantime, Honeybee has commercialized its patented breakoff bits in coring toolkits for geologists on Earth. The bits can be employed with a normal drill, earning the technologies effortless and cost-effective, mentioned Kris Zacny, Honeybee vice president and director of exploration technologies.

Honeybee has also been in talks with providers intrigued in utilizing the bits for nuclear disaster remediation in which it is also hazardous to send out in human investigators, Zacny mentioned. “If there are concrete tanks that are leaking, for example, then robots can go in and get samples to look at radiation amounts.”

The technologies was invented by Honeybee’s late Main Engineer Tom Myrick. “Tom would have been really happy that his invention created a distinction to planetary missions,” mentioned Zacny.

Property Films from Mars

Accumulating samples for return to Earth is not the only 1st that engineers have planned for Perseverance. For the 1st time, NASA has designed a method that could send out back again higher-top quality movie of a rover’s spectacular entry and landing sequence.

Honeybee Robotics developed its rotary percussive corer drill to accumulate rock samples on Mars. The version that is traveling on the Perseverance rover has essential distinctions, but they share a novel technologies for breaking off core samples, which Honeybee has now created accessible to geologists on Earth. Credits: Honeybee Robotics

Although the Curiosity rover despatched back again a sequence of compressed visuals showing the Martian area during descent, Perseverance’s entry, descent, and landing offer features six higher-definition cameras and a microphone that aims to capture all the drama of the “seven minutes of terror” between hitting the outer atmosphere and touching down. In addition to viewing the planet’s area, the cameras are positioned to look at the parachutes unfold and also to look back again at the descent stage and down at the rover as the two separate.

Property Films from Mars

Accumulating samples for return to Earth is not the only 1st that engineers have planned for Perseverance. For the 1st time, NASA has designed a method that could send out back again higher-top quality movie of a rover’s spectacular entry and landing sequence.

Although the Curiosity rover despatched back again a sequence of compressed visuals showing the Martian area during descent, Perseverance’s entry, descent, and landing offer features six higher-definition cameras and a microphone that aims to capture all the drama of the “seven minutes of terror” between hitting the outer atmosphere and touching down. In addition to viewing the planet’s area, the cameras are positioned to look at the parachutes unfold and also to look back again at the descent stage and down at the rover as the two separate.

What appears to be like a image of a printed circuit board is essentially a laptop or computer-generated simulation primarily based on laptop or computer-aided style files for a board-to-be. Tempo Automation produced this “fabrication simulation” capacity whilst functioning on a circuit board for the method of cameras and a microphone developed to file the Perseverance rover’s Mars atmospheric entry, descent, and landing. Credits: Tempo Automation

The digital camera components are off-the-shelf designs, but the circuit board that manages their interface and electrical power was developed by JPL. It was then designed by San Francisco-primarily based Tempo Automation. Started in 2013, just following NASA introduced the Mars 2020 mission, Tempo employed the do the job to boost its producing procedures.

As its name suggests, Tempo Automation’s concentrate is quick, automatic generation of printed circuit boards, even in compact batches. One established of tools the corporation gives to that stop is the course of action for earning every single part “traceable,” to maintain observe of who touched it and what was finished to it at every position in the board generation course of action, as well as which part ton the piece arrived from. This details tends to make it less difficult to zero in on the trigger of a trouble and see what other boards may have been influenced, mentioned Tempo cofounder Shashank Samala.

To meet JPL’s stringent documentation needs, Tempo included X-ray visuals, ionic cleanliness data, and data from an automatic optical inspection for every single part, all of which is now part of the company’s normal method.

A resource one of a kind to Tempo is what it calls fabrication simulation – software package that interprets a laptop or computer-aided style (CAD) product into a photorealistic representation of what the remaining board will look like. A team was prototyping the resource when the JPL do the job started in early 2018, and that do the job helped them total it, mentioned Samala. It debuted the adhering to calendar year.

The simulation lets customers look at their patterns for any difficulties or flaws ahead of generation starts, he mentioned. “A uncomplicated error can expense a ton of money and time.”

Although it was conceived to assist customers finalize their patterns, the corporation uncovered that it was useful in-home as well. The producing course of action can outcome in discrepancies between the primary CAD product and the remaining product or service, Samala discussed. The simulation “serves as a supply of truth on the manufacturing facility floor, to communicate the designer’s intent. The 1st detail we look at is the simulation.”

He mentioned offering a product or service that achieved NASA expectations has helped the corporation get into quite a few other space techniques, which include satellites and rockets.

In the meantime, Chris Basset, who developed the circuit board at JPL, looks ahead to the moment the digital camera footage is beamed back again from Mars following Perseverance’s landing Feb. eighteen, 2021. “This is so considerably outside of what we ordinarily do that it’s tremendous-exciting,” he mentioned. “I just can’t hold out to see these visuals.”

Ultraviolet Lasers Scan for Chemical Clues

An additional technologies whose roots arrive at considerably back again into NASA’s Mars Exploration Program is also traveling for the 1st time on Perseverance and has several likely applications in this article on Earth.

When two longtime colleagues founded Photon Systems in 1997, research confirmed remarkable assure for spectrometers – units that use gentle to determine a sample’s composition – running at deep-ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths. These experienced the likely to determine a microbes or detect even the slightest chemical traces. But resources for gentle in the 220- to 250-nanometer variety were also large, significant, and delicate to environmental interference, and experienced several other difficulties.

William Hug and Ray Reid established out to develop a miniature, light-weight, rugged deep-UV laser supply for spectroscopy in the field. Their 1st outside investment decision arrived in 1998 from a pair of SBIR contracts with JPL, which was intrigued in a spectrometer that could detect nucleic and amino acids, natural components that are foundational to all identified lifetime. Given that then, the Covina, California-primarily based corporation has been given a selection of NASA SBIRs, largely with JPL, as well as funding from NASA packages aimed at establishing instruments for planetary and astrobiology science.

Now the space agency will get the 1st large returns on its very long investment decision in the technologies: Perseverance is outfitted with the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Substances (SHERLOC) instrument, which takes advantage of a Photon Systems laser to spot beforehand invisible clues in its research for symptoms of previous lifetime on Mars.

Deep-UV photons interact strongly with several components, especially ones containing natural molecules. This outcomes in greater detection sensitivity and larger precision when compared with infrared or even visible-gentle laser resources.

Deep-UV spectroscopy has been finished in research labs, but Hug and Reid arrived up with a building that was considerably lesser, easier, and less costly to establish than any current choice. “Deep-UV lasers begin at $100,000. That’s why they’re not employed in industry,” Hug mentioned, noting that laboratory instruments utilizing the technologies may get up 3 laboratory tables and get a thirty day period to established up.

One big problem has been the stage of perfection the technologies needs. The exact sensitivities that allow small, higher-energy wavelengths to detect even a virus make them vulnerable to the slightest flaws. A microscopic imperfection in a lens or other area can disrupt or scatter them, and Hug mentioned it has taken advances across various industries to meet the important expectations.

Photon Systems focuses on two sorts of spectroscopy in which deep-UV laser resources deliver big benefits around longstanding spectrometer technologies, and SHERLOC will use equally. Fluorescence spectroscopy observes the gentle that most natural and several inorganic components emit when excited by sure ultraviolet wavelengths, just like detergent glowing underneath a black gentle. Just about every emits a distinct spectral “fingerprint.”

Raman spectroscopy, on the other hand, observes the gentle that a molecule scatters, some of which will shift to distinct wavelengths because of to interaction with molecular bond vibrations within just the sample. These shifts in wavelength can be employed to determine the components in a sample. The greater-energy photons of UV gentle elicit a substantially much better Raman scattering sign from natural molecules than reduced-frequency gentle. And since deep-UV gentle is not present in normal fluorescence or in sunlight, utilizing these really shorter wavelengths eliminates resources of interference.

In the latest many years, the corporation has started off establishing the technologies into products and solutions, which include handheld sensors and units that watch private exposure to contaminants, as well as lab equipment. Their largest markets now are in the pharmaceutical, food processing, and wastewater treatment industries, mentioned Hug. Deep UV can determine and measure sure compounds at substantially reduced concentrations than any other technique, presenting unparalleled precision in top quality control, no matter if measuring the energetic substances in pharmaceuticals or guaranteeing the cleanliness of equipment and amenities.

In wastewater treatment, the technologies can determine and measure contaminants, letting the operator tailor the treatment course of action and preserve on electrical power for ozone infusion and aeration. “For a compact wastewater treatment plant, the total method pays for itself in fewer than a thirty day period,” Hug mentioned.

An application the armed service has invested in is determining microbes and viruses. Figuring out which microbes are present in a wound, for example, would assist pinpoint the proper antibiotic to handle it, alternatively than utilizing broad-spectrum antibiotics that possibility leading to drug resistance.

And quick, cost-effective deep-UV spectroscopy retains assure for clinical research, from diagnostics to determining proteins, peptides, and other organic product.

“NASA has been a continual companion in our journey to day, and the laser is only part of the tale,” mentioned Hug. “It’s also the deep-UV Raman and fluorescence instruments we designed for NASA and the Section of Defense around the many years that are now giving breakthroughs for pharma, wastewater, and h2o top quality in typical, and now clinical tests for viruses.”

Additional than 20 many years of NASA funding has helped Photon Systems carry down the expense of deep-ultraviolet (UV) spectroscopy and shrink it to a handheld dimension. One of the company’s deep-UV lasers is traveling to Mars for the 1st time aboard Perseverance. Credits: Photon Systems

On Mars, SHERLOC will look for natural components and analyze the minerals bordering any attainable symptoms of lifetime so researchers can recognize their context, mentioned Luther Beegle, principal investigator for SHERLOC at JPL. This will deliver a lot more particulars about the background of Mars and also assist to determine samples for return to Earth. The instrument, which also features a digital camera able of microscopic imaging, will be ready to map a rock’s mineral and natural composition in higher element, giving heaps of critical data.

“We’re going to make a manufacturer-spanking-new measurement on Mars,” Beegle mentioned. “This is some thing that is never even been attempted ahead of. We consider we’re actually going to go the needle on Mars science and find some great samples to carry back again.”

NASA has a very long background of transferring technologies to the private sector. The agency’s Spinoff publication profiles NASA systems that have transformed into industrial products and solutions and expert services, demonstrating the broader advantages of America’s investment decision in its space application. Spinoff is a publication of the Technology Transfer application in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Supply: NASA

Maria J. Danford

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