The successful communication between Mars and earth is largely due to durable radios built by L3 Space & Sensors, a division of L3 Electronics in Mason. Its radio is on board Mars Insight.
Project Engineer Chris Reinke had his eyes glued to a live NASA feed during the November 26 landing of Mars Insight. "It was a litle comforting to finally get that confidence that it's there it's landed and it's working."
According to Reinke, "One of the hardest parts of these deep space missions is you have to guarentee that they are going to operate because once they get there it's sort of a one shot deal."
The Mars Insight radio is proudly displayed in the hall of L3 Technologies inside a sturdy housing. Another bigger radio is on satellites orbiting Mars.
Reinke has also designed radios for other Mars missions like Spirit, Opportunity and Phoenix. All the design, manufacturing and extensive testing happens at L3 Space & Sensors. He explains, "That involves electromagnetic interference testing, shock and vibration testing, thermal testing, thermal vaccum testing. We even backfill thermal vaccum chambers with what they call Mars gas."
Once in space here's how the radio works:
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists wanting to move Insight's arm would transmit a signal.
- Three to 20 minutes later that signal will get picked up by a satellite orbiting Mars.
- That signal gets converted to the channel the L3 radio is on which is UHF.
- That is then beamed down to the lander itself.
- Insight receives the command, validates the data is there and then acts based on the command.
Going forward Reinke says the radios will become more sophisticated. Scientists are testing new technology on this mission aboard cube satellites.
The briefcase sized satellites, which traveled separately from Insight, have the capability of relaying information about the lander back to earth in a matter of minutes.