The Mars Rover project was an ambitious and awe-inspiring project that was taken on by NASA in 2003. Sending a rover into space to land on Mars required extensive research, planning, and testing to be sure the rover would not only make it to the Red Planet, but that it would also arrive in excellent working condition. Extensive testing was required, and NASA needed a system that would perform 100% of the time, because billion dollar pieces of technology were dependent upon it.
In 1992, Trimax completed the original installation of the solar simulator chamber controls, then continued maintenance throughout the 1990s and completed major upgrades in the early- to mid- 2000s. As such, Trimax was deemed the best and most competent fit for the Solar Simulator Chamber Project.
Testing took place in Building 150, which was built in the 1950s as part of the original space program. It was used to test space crafts in simulated outer space conditions. In 1992, the simulator used in Building 150 was upgraded to PLC control. The simulator contained within the building is a vacuum chamber that reaches 60 feet in height and has a 25-foot diameter. The top of the simulator is a mirror (the world’s largest continuous mirror). To simulate sunlight, 37 light bulbs are used. The 40 kW bulbs are cooled by both air and water.
Temperature must also be simulated, and this is done by pumping liquid nitrogen through shrouds in the chamber to bring the temperature down to -190 C°. Doing this creates a burn off gas, GN2, which is vented into the atmosphere. A large amount of liquid nitrogen is used to reach and maintain these conditions within the chamber. Because of this, three different size tanks are used to store liquid nitrogen: a 50,000 Liquid Nitrogen tank, a 15,000 Liquid Nitrogen tank, and a 6,000 Liquid Nitrogen tank. From the various tanks, the LN2 is transferred to the simulator chamber and the GN2 is vented into the atmosphere at this point. The simulation chamber is constantly receiving LN2, but it may run low at certain times due to the testing taking place. Should this happen, a tank-to-tank transfer is needed to replace the LN2 supply. For all of this to take place, many mechanical devices are needed including: LN2 transfer pumps, valves, pressure transmitters, temperature RTDs, and various thermocouples. The control system for the LN2 transfers consists of redundant GE processors and extensive I/O. The entire process is monitored and controlled from a redundant Wonderware SCADA system.
Lastly, outer space exists in a vacuum, and that too must be simulated. In order to do this many types of pumps must be utilized, including: vacuum pumps, vacuum stage compressor pumps, and vacuum torr pumps, in addition to other types of pumps.
As technology continues to move forward, Trimax supports this advanced and complicated system for JPL through ongoing maintenance and necessary upgrades.