Metals on the Mars Rover Curiosity
High temperatures and harsh conditions require tough metals
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, culminating in the Curiosity Rover's arrival on the Red Planet on Aug. 6, 2012, was the result of years of technological research and human ingenuity in the field of materials science. The rover took about a year to travel from Earth to Mars and initially was intended to function for only about two years, but it still was operational as of June 2019.
The Curiosity Rover
NASA describes Curiosity as a "car-sized, six-wheeled robot." Its mission to seek evidence of Mars' ability to have sustained microscopic life at any point and if humans could ever survive on the planet.
Curiosity Rover's parts include a robotic exoskeleton, computers, temperature controls, sensors and cameras, robot arms, a power system, and a communications system. In order to negotiate the extreme conditions of space travel, atmospheric entry, landing, and exploration, which involve temperatures ranging from 3,790° F (2,090° C) to –131.8° F (–91° C), Curiosity and her transport vehicles were constructed using an assortment of metal and composite materials.
Here is just a snapshot of some of the metals used in the construction of Curiosity and the transport vehicle:
|Titanium tubing; springs; bridle||Legs; Cushioning within wheels; Part of the parachute deployment mechanism used during the rover's landing sequence|
|Aluminum; aluminum mortar; aluminum honeycomb||Wheels; Part of the parachute deployment mechanism; Hand forged from an aluminum billet, formed the core of Atlas V, Curiosity's launch vessel|
|Bronze||DU® metal-polymer bearings are critical components in the rover's drill.|
|Copper||Curiosity collects samples in cells, which are sealed in a pyrolysis oven by pressing the cell's copper collar into a knife-edge seal with a force of up to 250 pounds. The sample is then heated to 1,100° C for analysis.|
|Lead, tellurium, germanium, antimony, and silver|
Curiosity is powered, in part, by a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator that will use PbTe/TAGS thermocouples produced by Teledyne Energy Systems.
|Stainless steel||Stainless steel gas generators provided the high-pressure gas used to propel Curiosity's parachute from the spacecraft.|
|Rhenium||An RD AMROSS RD-180 booster engine powered the propulsion system used to launch Atlas V. Rhenium is alloyed in the jet turbine.|
|Tantalum||630 tantalum multianode capacitors are responsible for powering the ChemCam laser module onboard Curiosity.|
|Tungsten||The back shell of Curiosity's atmospheric entry vehicle released two sets of detachable tungsten weights in order to alter the spacecraft's center of mass as it approached Mars. Individual ballasts weighed 165 pounds or 55 pounds.|
Gallium and indium
|Photovoltaic cells layered with minor and semiconductor metals provide Curiosity with power during the day.|
|Silicon||Silicon chips etched with more than 1.24 million names are aboard Curiosity.|
|Tin and zinc||A penny minted in 1909 (when they were still mostly copper) is onboard to help scientists calibrate the cameras sending images back to Earth.|