Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), scheduled to launch in 2011, is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term robotic exploration of the red planet. The MSL rover will assess whether Mars' environment can support, or has supported, microbial life. Essential to the mission is the MSL's robot arm that holds and maneuvers the instruments that help scientists get up-close and personal with Martian rocks and soil. Running the arm is a custom-formed Cicoil (www.cicoil.com) cable assembly conducting power, signals and video from the instruments to the main electronics within the rover's body. Rigorous testing is now being done at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.
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 extreme flexibility of the robotic testing. In addition to fit and flexing issues, the robot arm is undergoing extreme environmental testing, including high heat, freezing cold, sand, salt, fog and water. One test will involve exposure to blowing, red “Mars sand,” which is extremely fine and abrasive.
The MSL will need to withstand severe vibration, G-forces, extreme temperatures, water, shock and the rigors of supersonic flight. Cicoil's specialized silicone jacket functions as a shock-absorbing material, surrounding and supporting each component.