The one-ton Curiosity rover that landed on Mars on August 6 is equipped with five pairs of Reali-Slim thin section bearings from Kaydon Bearings (www.kaydonbearings.com). The duplexed bearings help the rover save weight and space in two areas — supporting the steering actuators in its wheels and preparing rock samples for analysis.
Designed, developed and assembled for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Curiosity rover will analyze rock samples from Mars to determine whether the environment there once supported life.
The CHIMRA (Collection and Handling for In-Situ Rock Analysis), which is a one of the devices found in the rover, features a pair of Reali-slim bearings. With a three-inch O.D., the angular contact bearings play an important role in the thwack mechanism — they keep the primary sieve from clogging in order that the rock samples may be safely taken to the analytical instruments.
Meanwhile, the other four pairs of Kaydon bearings facilitated the rover’s critical landing by supporting the steering actuators found on its wheels, relieving them some of the load. Much like the bearings found in the CHIMRA, these bearings are also angular contact with balls and races of 440C stainless steel as well as a built-in preload. JPL had requested that the bearings, together with the phenolic separators, be shipped dry to enable them to add a space-rated lubricant that would not evaporate in the red planet’s thin atmosphere or turn viscous in the extreme cold.
Set to collect samples in September, NASA’s latest rover has a speed of around one inch per second and is expected to cover approximately 660 feet of Martian terrain per day.