When Failure is Not an Option

By now, most everyone has heard of the successful landing of NASA’s Curiosity Rover on Mars on August 6. However, it may not be as well known that long before it was rocketed into space, Hexagon Metrology was heavily involved in the Curiosity Rover’s creation.

At Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the project was a galactic-scale prototyping operation with tens of thousands of parts. In most cases, the team made three or fewer of any single component – one for a variety of destructive and non-destructive testing, one sent on the Mars mission and one to create an identical rover that stayed behind in a simulated Mars environment lab.

With so many parts being manufactured by more than 200 contract manufacturers, as well as independent measurement labs involved in the project, Hexagon Metrology was a natural choice. Because the entire spacecraft is essentially a prototype, design criteria were not nailed down until after manufacturing had already begun. Due to the open architecture of our PC-DMIS software, every component at every stage of production could be inspected using the same software, which streamlined operations, made communication simple and allowed the rapid sharing of data between locations. As a result, the inspection team had several options for keeping up with the lab’s unpredictable workflow.

At JPL’s facility, metrology hardware consisted of Brown & Sharpe coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) of various sizes and models, a ROMER articulating arm with tactile probes and Leica Geosystems laser trackers. Hexagon Metrology’s equipment instilled a high degree of confidence in meeting specifications that had zero tolerance for error. After all, it is impossible to replace faulty equipment on Mars.

Congratulations, NASA, on a spectacular accomplishment! We look forward to more great things to come.

Regards,
Norbert Hanke

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