News > Super precision bearings give flexibility to Mars probe

Super precision bearings give flexibility to Mars probe


The Barden Corporation has contributed to the success of the Phoenix Mars Mission by supplying super precision bearings for the robotic arm of the space probe.

The latest Mars Mission space probe is using super precision bearings to provide the robotic arm with the necessary flexibility. The bearings were manufactured by The Barden Corporation, The Schaeffler Group's super precision bearing specialist headquartered in Danbury, Connecticut, USA.

After a nine-month, 677 million-kilometre journey, 'Phoenix' finally reached its destination, landing safely on the North Pole of Mars on May 26th 2008. Due to an initial communication fault, the activation of the robotic arm was delayed and could not be carried out until radio communication was restored two days later on May 28th.

Since then the robotic arm has been successfully performing its various tasks. Since the Spring of 20-08, the 2.4 metre robotic arm has been digging the frozen polar ground around the landing area. The soil samples are being analysed onboard the Phoenix probe for traces of water and for possible signs of life.

On June 20th 2008, NASA announced an important initial finding: scientists were convinced that they had detected chunks of ice in a trench dug by the Phoenix robotic arm.

When we were approached by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to design and manufacture the bearing supports for the Phoenix robotic arm, we were well aware of the huge responsibility resting on our shoulders. After all, a bearing that malfunctioned would have doomed the whole mission to failure," commented Al Conti, Aerospace Specialist at The Barden Corporation. "Therefore, failure safety and reliability were the highest priorities. Compactness of design, lowest possible mass, extremely low friction and maximum precision were also critical considerations."

Barden's stainless steel super precision angular contact ball bearings have already survived the long journey through space undamaged. Barden is confident that these bearings will also provide the required flexibility for the robot arm and ensure that it operates reliably over a long period, despite the adverse environmental conditions on Mars, such as storms, dust and extreme temperatures.

The robotic arms of the two previous probes, 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity', are also equipped with super precision bearings from The Barden Corporation. Designed for a service life of 90 days, the probes, arms and bearings have exceeded the original expectations by more than four years now. Supplied with energy from solar cells, they are roaming the Mars landscape and sending scientific data back to Earth.

A market leader in the design and manufacture of super precision ball bearings for more than 60 years, Barden has supplied products to a range of extreme environment applications, including vacuum pumps and the aerospace industry. With sister manufacturing plants in the USA and United Kingdom, Barden's customer base includes NASA, Schlumberger and a number of leading aerospace and defence companies.

The Barden Corporation is a recognised market leader and a high percentage of bearings are tailor made for specific applications. Barden boasts state-of-the-art production technology and a wealth of engineering expertise. The product range encompasses predominantly radial, single row, super precision, angular contact and deep groove ball bearings which meet and exceed ABEC 7/9 standards.

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