Space exploration has been a part of international culture for the past six decades. From orbits, to satellites, to walking on the Moon, to now successfully landing on Mars, audiences around the world have waited in awe to see what the next accomplishment will be beyond Earth’s walls. And FUTEK Advanced Sensor Technology, Inc. has had the privilege to work on many of these acclaimed missions.
As an ISO9001-2008 accredited, AS9100 compliant, ANSI-Z540 certified, and ISO 17025 A2LA approved design and manufacturing house, FUTEK possesses the capabilities needed to develop load cells, torque sensors, and multi-axial sensors for cryogenic and vacuum environments. Within the past years, NASA, Raytheon, MIT, Lockheed Martin and JPL have brought FUTEK onboard for several ventures that are truly “out-of-this-world.” From the International Space Station to Mars, FUTEK has developed new technologies to withstand the unexpected environments space presents.
Though FUTEK has been in operation for 24 years, their story with NASA and space exploration began decades beforehand. Dreams and aspirations to work alongside NASA and their rocketeers flooded the minds of many of FUTEK’s esteemed engineers. To one day be able to say that they were an integral part in the success of a mission was the ultimate ambition. Well, that ambition is now a continuous reality. Remarkable dreams came true for all FUTEK engineers, technicians and office personnel as Curiosity landed upon the Martian surface.
In fact, FUTEK’s CEO, Javad Mokhbery, shared his message with a meaningful comparison: “A composer inspires and masterfully scripts a symphony. A conductor passionately assembles the perfect orchestra. But the success of a memorable performance heavily depends on reliable and well-crafted instruments, developed and supported by esteemed silent partners. With the successful and impressive landing of Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity, FUTEK is beyond proud and overwhelmingly honored to be a continuous silent partner of NASA, providing sensor solutions with Faith, Fire and Focus.”
NASA/JPL’s Mars Rover Curiosity
FUTEK has been most notably recognized for their involvement in the NASA/JPL Martian Rover: Curiosity. Launched on November 26, 2011, the rover set out on a mission to explore the Martian terrain. With the successful landing on August 6, 2012, Curiosity is off to maneuver the surfaces of Mars, analyzing samples of foreign soil in the hopes of detecting whether life on another planet exists.
FUTEK developed two unique sensors for the rover. Aboard Curiosity sits one cryogenic multi-axial load and torsion sensor responsible for monitoring the rover’s drilling arm and its robot ic maneuvers as it retrieves sediments for analysis. Additionally, a secondary FUTEK cryogenic load cell sits aboard to supervise the precision and force used to drill directly into the Martian surface. Both sensors are designed to operate around the clock within temperature cycles reaching 23°F to as low as -124°F.
FUTEK’s engineering team is ecstatic with the accomplishments thus far in the mission. Sensor Technical Director, Richard Walker said this of his team’s achievement: “I was overcome with emotion and a sense of great responsibility when Curiosity made such a smooth landing. My hat’s off to all of the NASA/JPL teams that made this happen. FUTEK strives to build the highest quality aerospace grade sensors, and the two sensors that we developed and instrumented on the robotic arm and drill head assembly will show their robustness in the near future. I am extremely proud of our FUTEK engineers and technicians that took such great pride and dedication during the design and manufacturing of these critical components.”
NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV)
The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is intended to be the NASA Space Shuttle replacement. With a prospective launch date in 2020, FUTEK joined this NASA venture to develop safety-testing sensors for the shuttle’s parachute system.
Like all shuttles returning to the Earth’s surface, a parachute is needed to ease its entry speed. FUTEK designed custom dual-axis clevis pin load cells and load washer load cells for the re-entry and in-mission abort simulations. The precision of these particular load cells was critical, as was their endurance.
NASA International Low Impact Docking System (iLIDS)
Under the direction of NASA, FUTEK has been called to assist with the implementation of an International Docking System Standard abroad the International Space Station. The program known as the International Low Impact Docking System (iLIDS) will require several quad-bridge tension and compression miniature load cells to detect, guide, and dock incoming space vehicles. These load cells must follow specific space and flight standards, ensuring their conformity with various forms of spacecraft.
NASA’s Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS)
The Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) is one of five instruments NASA will use on the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environment Satellite System (NPOESS) Preparatory Project (NPP). VIIRS will be responsible for new advances in weather and environmental monitoring. From the satellite, VIIRS will be able to take and present highly defined images of clouds, vegetation, and sea surfaces. To ensure it operates effectively, FUTEK developed two cryogenic load cells that monitor and secure loads on the cryo-radiator. One load cell will be applied to measure loads solely in the intermediate stages, while the second monitors loads in the sub-zero temperature stages.
NASA’s Shear History Extension Rheology Experiment (SHERE)
Alongside NASA and MIT, FUTEK part icipated in the jointed venture to help create the Shear History Extensional Rheology Experiment (SHERE). This program was designed to examine the stress and strain of polymer fluid in microgravity. FUTEK developed a 10 Kilo-Dyne load cell to measure these fluid viscosity forces upon the International Space Station.
The decade long partnership between FUTEK and NASA has established a name for FUTEK has a leader within the test and measurement aerospace industry. Their defined technologies that endure the harsh environments of zero-gravity, cryogenic temperatures, and miniature design have led them to become a valuable resource for spacecraft pre-launch, in-flight, and operating assessment necessities. So while they await another venture from NASA, FUTEK delights in the fact that their sensors are now actively working on Mars’ surface.