SKF bearings help Mars Rover collect samples on the planet’s surface

April 7, 2021
These highly engineered components contribute to the survival of the rover’s main robotic arm.

Each time the Perseverance Mars Rover collects or handles rock and regolith samples in Jezero Crater during its multiple-year mission on the surface of the red planet, key components from SKF will facilitate that those activities successfully take place.

Enabling the Mars Rover’s core operations in the harsh environment on Mars are Kaydon RealiSlim thin-section ball bearings, designed and manufactured by SKF.

These highly engineered components contribute to the survival of the rover’s main robotic arm, sample collecting turret, tool-bit carousel and sample-handling assembly during a months-long trip through space, and its function as intended on the Mars surface. SKF also supplied critical bearings for the mission’s launch vehicle, which carried the rover and its lander into space.

SKF notes its bearings will play an integral role in the process of sample collection on Mars. When the rover is ready to begin collecting samples on the surface, the robotic arm will maneuver into place and the tool bit carousel will whirr into action, deploying tools to drill or abrade material, which will then be collected by the sample collecting turret (aka “the hand”) and transferred to the sample handling assembly for processing onboard the rover, and eventually a potential return to Earth for analysis. 

“The bearings we designed and built to help the rover perform its core science activities were based on several models of Kaydon thin-section ball bearings customized by our engineers to minimize weight and save space while retaining maximum functionality and reliability for a mission where repair or replacement is simply not an option,” said Isidoro Mazzitelli, director of product development and engineering, Americas. "Space applications must be a small fraction of the weight of standard bearing assemblies."

In addition to the latest mission, SKF boasts a decades-long history as a supplier to global space programs, dating all the way back to NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. “Our company’s bearings, seals and other products have helped enable a wide range of spacecraft and missions for more than 40 years,” said John Schmidt, president, SKF USA, Inc. “Our parts have flown on the previous space missions, dozens of commercial and government satellites, space-borne telescopes, a wide range of rocket launch vehicles and in astronaut’s spacesuits. When conditions become critical and applications demanding, engineering knowledge is the only way to success.”

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