Sherborne Sensors Limited - PRODUCT NEWS

Miniature force transducers help deliver new mobility system for concept micro-rover designed for missions to the Moon and Mars

Sherborne Sensors' miniature force transducers have been chosen by Canada's Carleton University for its innovative mobility system, which will help improve traction and combat slippage when micro-rovers traverse a Martian surface. The force transducers were selected for their accuracy, range and reliability, as well as providing a path to flight testing.

A growing number of space mission programs are involving lunar and planetary exploration using rovers. These semi-autonomous vehicles can be manned or controlled remotely and drive across a Martian surface to explore for resources and perform scientific experiments. Spirit and Opportunity are two well-known examples, having landed on Mars in 2004 and made important discoveries about pre-historic wet environments that may have been favourable for supporting microbial life.

Both Spirit and Opportunity were solar-powered rovers built for a mission intended to last 90 days. However, Spirit kept on going for more than six years, driving over 7.7 kilometres from where it landed at the Gusev Crater (the possible site of a prehistoric lakebed) and returning over 124,000 images before getting stuck in sand in 2009. Spirit eventually ceased communications in 2010, but Opportunity continues to conduct experiments and has driven 33.5 kilometres since landing at Meridiani Planum on the other side of Mars.

The fate of Spirit highlights a major challenge that has dogged previous planetary rovers in that they are prone to getting stuck in the fine-grained soil and other topographic features of Martian surfaces. They are also large, expensive and susceptible to damage. This is why a new micro-rover prototype is being developed as part of the Exploration Surface Mobility (ESM) program co-ordinated by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

"The first micro-rover flew in 1997 and was only 12 kg in mass, but was very limited," says Alex Ellery, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Carleton University and Canada Research Chair in Space, Robotics and Space Technology. "Since then, rovers have been getting larger and more capable. However, this neglects the fact that sensors and instruments have been getting smaller, so we haven't yet explored fully the capabilities of the micro-rover design."

Breaking new ground
With the CSA looking for a variety of different-sized prototypes to support its ESM program, Professor Ellery and his colleague Dr Ala' Qadi, a Post-doctoral Researcher at Carleton University, established a co-operative partnership to develop a new micro-rover design. Members include MPB Communications; Ryerson University; University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies; University of Winnipeg; Xiphos Technologies; and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA).

Having submitted their design to the CSA, the partnership was awarded a $1.8-million (CAD) contract to develop a smart and all terrain micro-rover based on a modular architecture to allow optimal reconfiguration for Moon and Mars exploration and science. Employing a number of innovations in robotics, sensors, microsats and real-time intelligent software to enable high functionality within its 30 kg mass budget, the micro-rover - named 'Kapvik' after the Canadian Wolverine - represents a significant reduction in mass on larger rover designs such as Spirit and Opportunity (174 kg), as well as NASA's 900 kg 'Curiosity Mars' rover, which is currently making its way to the Red Planet aboard an Atlas V rocket (due to touch down in August 2012).

"We had to develop the chassis, the frame and the avionics box for the micro-rover - including all the controls for the motors, instrumentation and the control algorithm (electrical and mechanical)," says Carleton

About Sherborne Sensors:
Sherborne Sensors is a global leader in the design, manufacture and supply of high-precision inclinometers, accelerometers, force transducers and load cells, rotary encoders, instrumentation and accessories for industrial, military and aerospace customers. Products offered under the Sherborne Sensors brand are renowned for their ultra-reliability and long-life precision within critical applications. Recent acquisition of synergistic technologies by Sherborne Sensors within our inclinometer and force and load cell offerings has allowed customers to benefit from expanded product lines, with added benefits of engineering support, global sales presence, repair, refurbishment and calibration services, stocking programs, and continuous product improvement.

For more information, please contact :-

Sherborne Sales Dept.
Sherborne Sensors Limited
1 Ringway Centre, Edison Road, Basingstoke RG21 6YH United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)1256 630300
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August 2012

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