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Episode 1 - Materion on Mars

In this episode, "Materion on Mars", join host Melissa Mahl, as she talks with four of our subject matter experts about the components Materion has on the Mars Rover Perseverance and future projects that are out of this world!




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Melissa Mahl, Materion Quality Control Project Lead

Guest Panel: 

Aidan Durack, Advanced Materials Global Product Manager
Dave Harrison, Precision Optics Business Development Manager
Keith Smith, Performance Alloys and Composites Vice President, Nuclear & Science
Thomas Weber, Materion Balzers Optics Space Team Leader

Episode Transcript:

It's a big, exciting Materion world, from the cell phones in your hand to the satellites orbiting the Earth. We are all around you. Come inside Materion to meet the people and hear the stories about how we bring it all to life every single day. Join us as we talk to our subject matter experts about topics and trends that are truly changing the world.

Despite the challenges we have all experienced in 2020, NASA has given us a new hope, stunning the world yet again by landing a new rover on Mars. On February 18, this new rover, known as Perseverance, landed in Jericho Crater, and has given the world a front row seat to collecting rock samples and looking for life on Mars. Perseverance is equipped with 23 cameras, two robotic arms, and 40 sample tubes ready to collect Martian microbes. Hello, and welcome to Materion’s first podcast called “Minds Over Materials”. And during this episode, you'll meet the minds inside Materion as we explore topics relating to our advanced materials and technologies. I am host Melissa Mahl. And today's topic is “Materion on Mars”. For the first time we're telling Materion’s story on how we contributed to this newest rover. And joining me today are four guests from all different Materion facilities located around the world, each excited to tell their own stories on how they contributed to this latest mission. David Harrison is business development manager for Materion Precision Optics, located in Westford, Massachusetts. Thomas Weber is a leader of Materion Balzers Optics Space Team, located in Jena, Germany. Aidan Durack is a Product Manager from Advanced Materials located in Limerick, Ireland. And finally, Keith Smith, Vice President Nuclear Science and Government Affairs from Materion Performance Alloys and Composites located in Elmore, Ohio. Let us get started by discussing Materion’s precision optics materials on how they've contributed to Perseverance. Dave let's start with you. For this mission Materion provided bandpass filters, which are key component to the rover Mastcam-Z camera system. Can you describe why these filters are important and how they work?

Oh, sure, Melissa, so Mastcam-Z is a multispectral imaging system, and basically the primary science camera on Perseverance. Its function is really as the rover's main eyes. It has two separate filter wheels, which employ optical filters manufactured by Materion. each wheel has eight distinct filters ranging in wavelength from around 440 nanometers, all the way up to just over one micron. Now what those filters do is to separate out different wavelengths of light that allow the cameras detect the system to see more like a human eye in sort of RGB type colors. One of the biggest challenges that the camera has on the Martian surface is to sort out all the bright red colors, so they can provide those high definition images that we've all come to marvel at. So Materion’s filters are a key component in this capability. Additionally, there there's two neutral density filters in one in each eye, that allow the camera to look directly at the sun for imaging purposes, which it does that for, to do a detailed study of the Martian atmosphere. So, there's a wide range of things that that filters contribute to, to allow the rover or Perseverance, if you will, to see what's going on both in the ground and in the sky above.

Oh, my gosh, that sounds so fascinating. Thank you. Transitioning over to our Optics Balzer’s team. I understand there are other key components that were built into the Mars environmental dynamics analyzer known as MEDA instrument. Thomas, can you tell us what components your team created for Perseverance and what they're purpose is?

Yes, Optics Balzers has manufactured in 2016, a set of bandpass filters in the UV and visible spectral range for the so called RDS radiation and dust sensor, which is part of the weather station of the Mars rover. These filters are quite small, six by six millimeters, and they are mounted directly on top of photodiodes located on the deck of the rover and they are looking into the sky, measuring size and properties of dust particles, [sic], and they are also measuring the annual cycles of UV and this radiation. Yeah, these are the main properties of these filters. So, they are fewer ones then delivered by David and his team. But they're sending weather data directly from the Martian surface.

Wow, outstanding. Thank you! Aidan, what exciting products from Advanced Materials business, we're on the mission to Mars.

Hi Melissa, we do a whole range of products from our hermetic packaging and solder receiving components on board. I suppose most notably was some of our combo lead covers, and they’re used to protect critical - mission critical - electronic assemblies. So, these components are experiencing very extremes of temperatures and harsh environments on their way to Mars. So, it's highly important that they don't fail. And that's what our combo lid covers, do, they make sure that they don't fail. And indeed, after they arrive, it's important that they stay operational and don't fail for the lifetime that the rover will be on the surface of Mars. Obviously, you can perform maintenance, you can swap out components once the devices are in place. And that's what our ultra-high reliability products do; is they keep those devices safe for the entire lifetime of the program.

Wonderful. Thank you, Aidan. Taking a look at our Performance Alloys and Composites. Our AlBeMet composites were on board as well, helping with this exploration. Keith, why was AlBeMet components chosen for use on Perseverance?

Well, hello Melissa, let me talk a little bit about AlBeMet. AlBeMet is an aluminum and beryllium metal matrix composite is extremely lightweight, it's very stiff. And when you look at it, it's high specific stiffness three times as high as aluminum, and 70% greater than titanium. So, it's an excellent material that's thermally stable and very lightweight. And it also dampens vibration very well. So, for the Mars rover that's landed on Mars. What AlBeMet provides is an extremely lightweight material lighter than aluminum, so that we can take weight out of the structure for critical structural components. And I will mention one thing about AlBeMet. This is not the first time AlBeMet or Materion has been on Mars. AlBeMet was used on critical components on the Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity landers back in the early 2000s. So, you know, we're just visiting one more time.

Wow, that is fantastic. It's certainly clear to me that Materion has supported space exploration products and aerospace missions for many years and the spirit of innovation keeps driving us today. So, Aidan, back to you. Can you tell us more about space projects advanced materials have been involved with for the past few years?

So Materion has been producing combo lid covers for over 40 years. So, we've involved in all the NASA space programs in that time. It's really exciting to see these devices that we work so hard to produce being used in such an interesting application. In more recent years, we've developed a range of Visi-Lid covers, which offer all of the same protection that the combo lid covers offer, but also allow optical signals in and out of devices. So that allows optical communication to happen as needed. But also, in the wider Materion Advanced Materials family, we've also been heavily involved in the space program through the space shuttle program since it started. And we provide a wide range of materials that help to protect the space shuttle from the severe temperatures that it experiences on re-entry. So, we have a lot of experience with the types of requirements of these space programs.

Oh, my goodness, it certainly sounds like it, and thank you. How about you, Thomas? Being new to the Materion on family, could you please tell us more about the history optics browsers have has had with past space and astronomy missions?

Yes, sure. So, in our facility in Jena, we are involved in space projects since 2005. So, we only manufacture customized coatings. So, we are open for this mostly challenging applications. Everything started with a set of bandpass filter arrays for German Earth observation [sic] called Rabbit Eye and with years passing by the space projects grew. Now we have about 20% of our turnover have the space business. And yeah, before landing on Mars this year, we are observing the Martian surface with filter array since 2016. With the ExoMars mission, and beside going to Mars, some of our filters are one filter is on its way to Mercury with BepiColombo. We will quite soon take a look at Jupiter with the JUICE mission. We also have one tiny filter at James Webb at the no the other parts of Materion has larger contributions, we have only a small filter. And then we are all looking to next year when Euclid Space Telescope will be launched by ESA. And we have yeah, major supply later optical components. So, this will be very exciting for us. But our main topic is still the Earth observation with a filter arrays and we are on board of almost all the Sentinels with optical devices. And yes, it's a nice journey that we are really very familiar with all the ESA projects. And now with partnering with Materion maybe we have the possibility to access all the also the NASA missions.

Oh, my goodness, that sounds quite exciting. You must be so proud.

Yeah. That's it's a lot of work. Yeah.

Absolutely. So, Dave, would it be safe to say that Materion’s Precision Optics has been involved with Mars exploration for quite some time?

Oh, yes, absolutely Melissa. It certainly would be. In fact, nearly every US mission to Mars has used some type of Materion filter or optical coatings. This goes all the way back to the all the Martian surface missions, you know, on the previous rovers like Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, as well as many of the Mars orbiting missions, all the way back to the Mariner Viking missions in the 70s, the Mars Global Surveyor in the 90s and Mars Odyssey in 2001. Currently, there are Materion filters on board of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO. This was launched in 2005. MRO has actually several payloads that use Materion filters. One of the more notable being the High Resolution Imaging Science Experience, or HiRISE. So, the HiRISE system is the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet. It's been providing unprecedented images of the Martian surface since 2006. Now, those images not only provide amazing scientific information of Mars, but also have been invaluable in selecting the landing sites for the last two rover missions, as well as providing in-mission support to them. From above, you know, look through see what's going on in the surface, look for dust storms, try to find the best path to where they want to go. HiRISE supports all those activities.

Oh, my gosh, how fascinating. Do you actually get to look at any of those images? Since your components are part of this program?

So yeah, I look at all the images are real, sort of off-the-side of this Mars discussion. But when you're asking me about images, I was actually in the office of the place who images the initially these things, the very first images that came back from Jupiter. I was actually in the room. So other than the person doing the imaging, I was the first person on the planet to see those images. It was awesome. Oh my god. Certainly, I see them all the time and intentionally.

Oh, I certainly what is well, that's fantastic. Thank you for sharing and what an accomplishment. Keith has AlBeMet composite or any other Materion materials been used for other space projects?

Well, Melissa, yes, they have. We have one group of metal matrix composites called SupremEX which are produced in the UK and also in the United States. SupremEX is an aluminum metal matrix composite with micron and sub-micron ceramic reinforcement. That gives us very high stiffness, great acoustic dampening and weight savings over aluminum titanium, and it's actually an excellent titanium replacement most recently with SupremEX, we're on the European Space Agency's Copernicus Earth Observation Project and it's used for structures on a laser communication device. Shifting gears to pure beryllium, with pure Beryllium, we've been in space since Telstar Project, Mercury Apollo, the space shuttle numerous satellites. And as you mentioned earlier very shortly later this fall is the James Webb Space Telescope. James Webb is a replacement for the Hubble and it's huge. When it's fully deployed, just the sunshield is the size of a tennis court that you can imagine. Well, the Webb Telescope has 18 beryllium mirrors each beryllium optic is about a meter in size hexagon. In addition, the structures and support structures that hold it in place along with the secondary mirror, the tertiary mirror and some of the optical bases for the optical arm or not the optical bases, but the structural bases for the analytical instruments. So, really excited about that. Why beryllium? Beryllium as an optical substrate is outstanding. Again, for space. It's very lightweight, it's a third the density of aluminum. It's extremely stiff, it's high stiffness, four times that of aluminum, three times as stiff as titanium. And it's even stiffer than steel. And yet it's very low density. It's a third lighter than aluminum. So dimensionally stable, great material for an optic. So, we're very excited, in particular, just can't wait for the Webb telescope to launch late this fall. We've been on that program for about 14 or 15 years, so to finally see that go will be very exciting.

Absolutely, Keith, I can talk from my personal experience with that hiring into the company. Just looking around the Materion walls and hallways, seeing pictures of everyone's contributions to the James Webb Space Telescope and those mirrors. It's certainly been the pride for Materion Elmore. Well, how gratifying it has been to hear each of your stories and sense the passion you have with our products. As listeners, I hope you enjoyed learning more about Materion and our materials that impact our today, tomorrow and beyond. As we wrap up today's episode, I firmly believe that this mission marks only the beginning of what is yet to come in Materion’s exploration to the unknown. Thank you for your time today. Until next time, Explore, Inspire, Deliver, Repeat. Goodbye.

17:27 Conclusion
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