MARS PERSEVERANCE AND HARDENED TECHNOLOGY IN EXTREME ENVIRONMENTS
On a mission to search for traces of ancient microbial life, Perseverance, the most advanced planetary rover in history, successfully entered the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere and landed on the rocky surface on February 18, 2021.
Facing the challenges of deep space high energy radiation and extreme heat and cold cycling, the robotic explorer collected and cached nine drill-core samples and performed experiments with implications limited only by one’s imagination. The Mars Perseverance rover, a robotic scientist weighing just under 2,300 pounds and armed with hardened technology, will help pave the way for future human exploration of our solar system.
By better understanding the history of Mars, we will improve our understanding of all rocky planets, including Earth. Sending machines and humans into space is a testing ground for pushing the boundaries of technology on Earth to new heights.
For over four decades, Analog Devices, Inc. (ADI) has drawn on the power of innovation and collaborated with National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA/JPL) to develop components and systems that can withstand the extreme G-forces of launch and meet the stringent quality standards to survive in the harshest conditions of space. The Perseverance mission is yet another technical collaboration and space milestone for NASA/JPL and ADI.
AT A GLANCE
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) a national research facility, helped open the Space Age by developing America’s first Earth-orbiting science satellite, creating the first successful interplanetary spacecraft, and sending robotic missions to study all of the planets.
Push the limits of technology in the search for the biosignature of life, the presence of water, and the potential of human habitation on Mars. Transfer that technology to commercial space endeavors benefiting humanity on Earth.
Solve the toughest engineering problems to enable robotic missions to operate in the harsh conditions of space, exploring the planets and their moons, the asteroids, and beyond.
Leverage ADI’s power management, isolation technologies, sensors, and radiation-hardened components for space probe instrumentation and mechanisms.
MARS PERSEVERANCE ACHIEVEMENTS
- Days on Mars: 708 sol (Martian days)/728 Earth days*
- Rock samples collected: 14*
- Atmosphere samples collected: 1*
- Raw images taken: 404,741, including two selfies *
- Distance driven: 12.85 km (7.98 mi)**
*As of Feb. 14, 2023
**As of August 31, 2022
PERSEVERANCE AND THE SEARCH FOR ANCIENT LIFE
While Mars is a frigid, almost airless desert today, scientists believe that microbes may have lived in the Jezero Crater during a wetter period 3.5 billion years ago. Thus, Perseverance, the six-wheeled robotic rover, began its mission to search for chemical, mineral, and textural evidence of ancient microbial life preserved in the crater’s sediments. Perseverance spent a year exploring the floor of Jezero, an area made up of igneous (volcanic) rocks that interacted with water. Igneous rocks are excellent timekeepers, as the crystals within them record details about the precise moment they formed and a rich understanding of the crater’s geological history.
After collecting eight rock-core samples from its first science campaign and completing a record-breaking, 31-Martian-day (or sol) sprint across about 3 miles (5 kilometers) of the Red Planet, Perseverance headed to the western edge of the Jezero Crater toward a dried-up river. If life ever arose on early Mars, the river delta basin composed of fine-grained sedimentary rock is an ideal geological environment to preserve the potential biosignatures of the organisms.
Perseverance collected two samples from an intriguing mudstone rock. The data from sensors indicated the presence of organic compounds and ring-shaped molecules (called aromatics). Scientists were pretty sure they were formed through nonbiological processes. More complex organic molecules like proteins or amino acids would provide more compelling evidence of life, but that would have to await analysis after the samples are returned to Earth.
Perseverance is the first Mars mission to collect rocks, sediments, and drill-core samples, seal them in tubes and deposit them on the surface to await retrieval during a later mission known as the Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign. MSR will be the first mission to return samples from another planet and the first launch from the surface of another planet. The samples are scheduled to arrive back on Earth in 2033 for in-depth analysis using sophisticated instrumentation too large and complex to bring to Mars.
ADI Engineer, Kristen Chong, describes her excitement for the landing of the Perseverance Rover and what we could learn.
POWERING THE MISSION
Electricity is the life-blood powering the robotic explorer’s instrumentation, communications, mobility, and scientific activities. Reliable power and battery longevity are critical to the 11-year rover mission. Perseverance runs on a high voltage battery bus for efficiency. However, the voltage output provided directly from the bus is too high for 99% of the Martian explorer’s electronic systems. Without an efficiently regulated intermediate voltage step-down, the rover would waste a significant amount of energy, and the battery would require more frequent recharging.
A POWER COLLABORATOR
NASA/JPL selected ADI as its technology provider to deliver a key power management solution. The high voltage, synchronous, current-mode controller acts as an interface to transform the high voltage supply from the central battery bus to lower voltages required to run all the rover’s components (ICs). The radiation-hardened controller offers the highest levels of conversion efficiency while wasting as little power as possible. Power loss generates heat, and excess heat is detrimental to component health. And in the thin Martian atmosphere, it’s even more challenging to get rid of any excess heat.
From your phone or tablet, tap this model’s AR 3D icon to interact with Perseverance in your own environment.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR THE BIGGER MISSION
The Mars 2020 rover carries several experiments focused on missions yet to come. MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) is perhaps the most ambitious and will test a method for extracting oxygen from Mars’ thin atmosphere. MOXIE will demonstrate if converting Martian carbon dioxide into oxygen is within the realm of possibility. If successful, future versions of MOXIE’s technology may become staples on other Mars missions, providing oxygen for rocket fuel and breathable air for future explorers and inhabitants. Also traveling with Perseverance is Ingenuity. The solar-powered helicopter drone will test flight stability in Mars’ thin atmosphere—one-hundredth of Earth’s—and scout for the best locations for exploration and the safest rover driving routes.
Also traveling with Perseverance is Ingenuity. The solar-powered helicopter drone successfully tested flight stability in Mars’ thin atmosphere—one-hundredth of Earth’s—and scouted for the best locations for exploration and the safest rover driving routes. Initially planned for just five flights over a 30-Martian-day test window, Ingenuity has performed 33* flights and remained flightworthy for over a year beyond its planned lifetime—a testament to its hardened, robust technology.
* As of September 24, 2022
Ingenuity helicopter deployed from the Perseverance rover at Jezero Crater, Mars
Courtesy of NASA/JPL – Cal Tech
INGENUITY: THE MARS HELICOPTER
Updated: February 16, 2023
On July 30, 2020, the Perseverance robotic explorer was launched from Cape Canaveral carrying under its belly, Ingenuity, a 4-pound solar-powered, autonomous helicopter. Seven months and 130 million miles later, both landed on the Red Planet.
During Ingenuity’s first test flight on April 19, 2021, twin rotors spun in opposite directions at approximately 2,400 rpm—many times faster than helicopters on Earth. The tiny craft needed to generate enough lift to fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere, one-hundredth of Earth’s. The chopper took off vertically, hovered, and landed for a total flight time of 39.1 seconds—acing the technology demonstration.
Ingenuity was initially scheduled for a 30-Martian-day experimental test window to attempt up to five powered, controlled flights lasting as long as three minutes and traveling up to 980 feet. –130°F temperatures pushed the limits of Ingenuity’s ability to survive the Martian nights.
As of February 16, 2023 the Mars helicopter has performed 44 flights—more than nine times its target and has remained flightworthy for over a year beyond its original planned lifetime—a testament to its hardened technology and ability to survive the hostile conditions on the Red Planet.
The Ingenuity Mars helicopter still faces new challenges. “To enhance our chances of success, we are making upgrades to our flight software geared toward improving operational flexibility and flight safety,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Software upgrades mean Ingenuity can take on tougher missions in the Jezero river delta—a region filled with jagged cliffs, angled surfaces, and projecting boulders that could stop a rover in its tracks.
’Fortun Ridge’ Imaged on Ingenuity’s Flight 27
Courtesy of NASA/JPL – Cal Tech
Later, on April 23, 2022, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter surveyed a ridgeline near the ancient river delta in Jezero Crater. The crafts camera provided a clear exposure of the rocky outcrops thought to be of igneous (volcanic) origin. The discovery could offer more information on the history of the crater.
The Ingenuity Mars helicopter proved that powered, controlled flight is possible in Mars’ thin atmosphere. The data acquired during its flights will help the next generation of helicopters add an aerial dimension to Mars’ explorations. Ingenuity demonstrated the ability to examine hard-to-reach locations, scout for robotic explorers, and play an important role in future robotic missions on Mars and, one day, on human-piloted missions.
A HISTORY OF HARDENED TECHNOLOGY
Sixty-three ADI components critical to the Mars mission lie aboard the Perseverance. “The parts span the realm of RF/μW to op amps, power management to data conversion, and everything in between,” said Kristen Chong, Marketing Manager and Applications Engineer, ADI. “We continue to work with NASA/JPL on challenging new space programs.”
With a working relationship dating back to the early 1980s, ADI has been pushing the limits of technology and developing critical components, custom programs, and hardened technology with NASA/JPL. Regardless of its function or mission, each component encounters the harshest conditions, including extreme G-forces, vibration, temperature fluctuation, and radiation.
Launched on August 5, 2011, NASA/JPL’s Juno space probe traveled for almost five years across the extreme environment of deep space to reach orbital insertion around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Juno’s mission: discover how the giant gas planet and other planets came to be. “Of all of the harsh radiation environments in our solar system, Jupiter is probably one of the worst,” said Kristen Chong of ADI. “Jupiter’s magnetosphere traps a significant amount of radiation in its Van Allen belts, quantities far greater than the Van Allen belts around our planet or any other within our solar system. That makes Juno a daring mission that requires extreme rad hardening of its electronics.”
ADI’s AD590S, a radiation-hardened temperature sensor, was incorporated on the Juno mission. Temperature can range wildly from one moment to the next as a spacecraft comes out of the shadow of the planet it’s orbiting and emerges into the direct rays of the Sun. Even as it’s brought into the sunlight, the temperature differentials within the spacecraft itself can be quite large between the side facing the sun and the one facing away from it. These temperature swings can have significant yet predictable effects on the ICs inside the space probe. Information from the temperature sensor can be used to adjust and compensate for the temperature variation aboard the spacecraft.
After almost 20 years in service, ADI’s AD590S continues to gather temperature data. As a testament to its operation record, the AD590S was selected by NASA/JPL for the 2020 Perseverance mission.
RADIATION’S DELETERIOUS EFFECTS
Spacefaring vehicles that travel beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic field are subjected to the harmful effects of radiation emitted by the Sun. Radiation can produce random errors, reset processing devices, and even destroy components. Radiation’s effects include:
- Single-event effects (SEE): a single ion or particle hitting a specific region of a device that results in a variety of odd phenomenon and errors.
- Total ionizing dose (TID): long-term cumulative effects that ionizing radiation has on parts throughout their operating lives. TID may result in offset shifts such as increased supply current on some components.
- Displacement damage (DD): large particles such as neutrons that can break down a silicon chip’s crystal structure, causing physical damage.
Linear Technology Corporation (LTC), renowned for its high-performance power management systems, was acquired by ADI in 2017. LTC engineers traveled to facilities such as the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M University to work together with NASA/JPL to identify parts to bring into the space market. They employed a variety of processes designed to either mitigate or enhance radiation tolerance.
“They reach out to us with challenging problems when an IC is not functioning correctly. We send people to College Station, TX as part of the radiation qualification process,” said John Guy, Staff Field Applications Engineer, ADI. “In one instance, we brought the original component designer and an FAE to check to see if there was any upset behavior displayed during the radiation testing.” At this point, the designer and FAE worked together with NASA/JPL engineers to focus on the problem to be solved, run tests, determine if it was an application-level issue or a core design issue, and develop the final radiation-hardened product.
QUALITY CONTROL, PERFORMANCE, AND LONGEVITY
For over 40 years, ADI has collaborated with NASA/JPL to develop hardened technology to withstand space’s harshest environments. These components have not only performed flawlessly, but in many cases, exceeded all expectations, lasting years or even decades longer than prescribed by mission requirements.
The relationship's longevity speaks to a continued trust by NASA/JPL in the products we build, our testing rigors, and the quality and standards we uphold. It also gives testament to ADI’s on-site services, deep domain expertise, and technologies that cross generations of space missions.
ADI’s standards and values represent proof points to our terrestrial-based customers with less demanding applications as well. Knowing that specific components are qualified to endure decades in the harshest space environments adds a level of reliability and trust that they will function faultlessly on Earth—whether it’s in a manufacturing plant, an electric vehicle, or a hospital surgical suite.
PARTNERS WITH EYES ON TOMORROW
Like NASA/JPL, we look to the future with a hunger to be at the epicenter of innovation—staying curious, learning to adapt, and thinking unconventionally. If ADI’s history in the past 50 years teaches us anything, it’s that tomorrow’s new technological breakthroughs will send industries on new paths and shape our world in ways we can’t even dream of today. Our vision is to solve the most complex, meaningful, and impactful challenges and stay ahead of what’s possible.
The Perseverance rover mission, and the many missions to follow, are only one small part of a grander program. NASA is charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, with a plan to establish a sustained human presence by 2028 in preparation for human exploration of Mars. It is ADI’s resolve to be part of that great exploration.
“We will be on the moon. We will be on Mars. We will be on the moons of planets in the outer solar system. We will be on comets. We will be tiptoeing from comet to comet, off to the stars.”
Dr. Carl Sagan
Astronomer, cosmologist, author, poet, and science communicator