ASI Delivers Robotic Arm for NASA's Mars Phoenix

Press Release From: Alliance Spacesystems
Posted: Saturday, April 22, 2006


Backhoe-like device joins family of ASI-developed Mars robotic devices

A new robotic arm destined to dig deep into Mars' polar crust has been completed by Alliance Spacesystems, Inc. (ASI), and delivered -- one month early -- to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for integration onto the Mars Phoenix lander, due for launch to the Red Planet next year. 

It will be the first trenching device to visit Mars, and has a very different capability than the robotic arms ASI built for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, said ASI president and CEO René Fradet.   "The robotic arm for Phoenix works like a mini-backhoe and is designed to dig a two-foot deep trench in Mars' north-polar region," Fradet said.  The long-lived robotic arms on the rovers, meanwhile, perform more delicate tasks, precisely moving cameras and other instruments close to rock and soil targets. "We're proud to have delivered yet another robotic device for NASA's Mars exploration." 

Phoenix mission scientists anticipate that the robotic arm will uncover a layer of water ice near the surface of Mars' northern plains, where Phoenix, equipped with small thrusters, is scheduled to softly touch down in late May 2007.  At the business end of the arm is a scoop about the size of a garden trowel that will do the digging down to an ice layer that is potentially rock-hard. In addition, a drill will penetrate, break up and retrieve hard ice samples for scientific study.

Endowed with four degrees-of-freedom and a 7.5-foot reach (2.3 meters), the aluminum and titanium device weighs less than 22 pounds (9.7 kg).  The agile arm will also deliver Mars soil and, scientists hope, frozen water samples to the suite of scientific instruments on the lander for close-up study.   A camera will also be mounted on the arm to provide a view of layers in the trench wall. The three-month mission is expected to yield new clues to the history of water on Mars and whether the environment was ever conducive to life. 

The flight model of the Phoenix arm was delivered to JPL April 19, and the engineering model will ship by the end of the month, Fradet said.

The delivery of the Phoenix arm follows the recent announcement of a merger between ASI and Vision Composites of Signal Hill, CA, a leader in high-performance, low-cost, build-to-print space composite structure fabrication.  Due to take effect July 1, the merger will enable the combined companies to provide aerospace customers with a single resource for the design and fabrication of composite space structures.

The Mars Phoenix spacecraft, scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida in August 2007, is being built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colorado. The project is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For more information on the mission, see

For more information on ASI, see

NOTE TO EDITORS:  Images to accompany this article are at the following URLs:


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