Alliance Spacesystems, Inc. (ASI) built the robotic arms for the Mars
probes. The technical name for the robotic arm is "Instrument
Deployment Device," or IDD. The arm is designed to be a part of the
Mars Exploration Rover (MER). The original robotic arm project created
two working arms, at a cost of $10 million, so each arm cost about $5
million dollars. Another $5 million robotic arm is currently being
readied by ASI. It is intended for use in a Mars rover called the
Phoenix, scheduled for launch in August 2007. The project which
designed and created the arms initially took about 18 months.
"The aerospace company's biggest success has been the robotic arms it
engineered for NASA's Mars rovers. The contract for the arms, which
allow the two rovers to probe the Martian soil, propelled the
fledgling company's initial growth in late 1997.
Back then, ASI had only three employees -- Fradet and co-founders
Scott VanderZyl and Jim Staats. Using a machine shop hauled over from
VanderZyl's garage, the three were making parts for satellite testing
equipment when they landed the rover contract. The company had 18
months to complete 21/2 years of work and quickly added another 17
employees to get the job done."
Arm of the future: Aerospace company designs technology for Earth market
"Brett Lindenfeld, director of engineering at Alliance Spacesystems
Inc. of Pasadena, Calif... led the Alliance Spacesystems team that
built and tested the robotic arms mounted on the front of NASA's two
Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which built the
rovers, initially contacted Lindenfeld's company in November 2000
regarding the rover arms... His team had 18 months to deliver the
first arm. Because the JPL was developing the rover itself within the
same time period, Lindenfeld's team had no existing sketches or plans
to work from...
His team had approximately four months to create about 300 part
drawings. In all, the team designed four arms, including two for use
on the rovers, one strictly for testing on Earth, and a spare arm,
which wasn't assembled. The arms were made up of more than 1,000
pieces each, 300 of which were unique to each arm...
His team comprised five engineers who designed, assembled, and tested
the arms, and three additional engineers who prepared testing and
assembly methods. JPL paid just under $10 million for the arms."
Mechanical Engineering Magazine: Going Soft
"Alliance Spacesystems' latest venture is a $5-million robotic arm for
another Mars rover called the Phoenix, which was commissioned by JPL,
located a few miles away in La Ca?ada Flintridge...
Phoenix's robotic arm was just about complete, but it wasn't much of a
looker. Long, metallic pipes extended from one branch of the arm to
the next, connected by gears and shafts that served as technology's
rendition of the human shoulder, elbow and wrist joints.
The only thing that was missing was the 'scooper,' a non-technical
term used freely among the engineers. The scooper is considered a
crucial tool for the Mars mission, set for 2007."
Los Angeles Times: Robot Maker Flexes Its Muscle on Mars
My Google search strategy:
Google Web Search: mars rover "robotic arm" million
Google Web Search: "alliance spacesystems" robotic arm million
I hope this is helpful! If anything is unclear or incomplete, please
request clarification; I'll be glad to offer further assistance before
you rate my answer.
Clarification of Answer by
05 May 2006 10:48 PDT
I accidentally omitted something from my answer that I thought would
be of interest. Here's a simple summary of the capabilities of the
"The IDD is about a yard long and weighs 7.7 pounds, incorporating
five actuators with rotating joints. NASA required that the arm have
sufficient mass and strength to operate in the harsh climate of Mars,
while also being as lightweight and compact as possible.
In many respects, the IDD mimics a human arm, with three joints: a
shoulder, elbow, and wrist... This allows the arm to function in much
the same way as the arm of a geologist might, holding instruments,
grinding away layers, picking up and examining rocks, and so on. At
the end of the IDD is a turret that functions as a 'hand,' holding
tools that can spin through a 350 degree turning range.
NASA?s website notes that this hand has a pretty tough assignment.
'Thirty percent of the mass of the titanium robotic arm comes from the
four instruments it holds at the end of the arm. This weight makes
maneuvering the lightweight arm a bit of a challenge -- like
controlling a bowling ball at the end of a fishing rod'."
Solidworks Community: Signs of Water (and Perhaps Life) Found on Mars
With Aid of Robotic Arm Developed with SolidWorks