Pacific Design Technologies Inc. in Goleta contributed several major components to NASA’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity, which landed safely August 5 on the Red Planet’s Gale Crater.
The South Coast company was contracted by NASA for its expertise in advanced cooling and pumping systems used in space exploration. Pacific Design Technologies Inc. (PDT) designed, built, and tested Curiosity’s “pumped fluid loop,” which works similarly to cooling systems in cars that take heat from one region of the engine and circulate it to another area so it dissipates.
After creating a cooling system able to withstand the Martian days and nights, PDT sent the parts to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to be combined with other elements before they were attached to the rover. Heat management in the rover is critical and was particularly important throughout Curiosity’s eight-month journey to Mars and during the difficult landing.
Curiosity is a six-wheeled rover that is roughly the size of a Mini Cooper and is the most technologically advanced Mars rover ever built. It has 17 cameras attached and is equipped with a robotic arm that contains highly specialized tools and laboratory instruments. The rover’s mission is to determine if Mars ever had an environment where microbial life could be sustained.
Mike Brown, director of engineering and program manager at PDT, said that as the rover finally reached its destination, there was a shared sense of relief from all those who contributed to the cooling pumps.
“There was a lot of excitement and a huge sense of relief that everything was working well,” said Brown. “Curiosity made it through the most treacherous part of the journey, and now we’re on the planet and so thrilled to be supporting NASA. We hope the rover has a long life, and we can’t wait to see the research and data that it comes up with.”
PDT has worked on a number of previous Mars missions, providing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena with cooling instruments for other ventures. The company first began working with NASA’s JPL in 1995 on the first Mars rover, Pathfinder, and contributed to the Exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004.