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Machined in Birmingham, headed for Mars

Machined in Birmingham, headed for Mars

High-precision components machined by Birmingham-based GB Precision, will be making the journey into space on the mission that is planned to be heading to Mars in 2016.

The spacecraft will be carrying instrumentation designed to detect a wide range of trace atmospheric gases, many of which are important markers of geophysical and/or biogenic activity – it is into this instrumentation that the components machined by GB Precision will be incorporated.

The components, which were machined from RSA – a very pure, and therefore high-value, form of aluminium, comprise a total of ten units, two copies of each of five versions.  The largest of these parts would fit within a 90mm cube, the smallest a 30mm cube.  

An indication of the complexity of the geometries involved can be given by the fact that each component incorporated approximately 100 different individual features, including cut-outs and reliefs, with a minimum of four datum points on different faces of each component, with a required machining tolerance varying between 3 – 20 microns.  

In order to achieve this level of accuracy, GB Precision carried out the great majority of the work on its state-of-the-art Roeders CNC multi-axis milling machine.  Director, Paul Turner explains; “This was a very challenging project.  Its successful completion depended on a number of factors, all of which had to be right.  Obviously the milling machine itself had to be up to the job, plus, the metal cutters had to be very accurate and all the feeds and speeds correct – in this environment, programming really mattered.”   

Even with this advanced technology, two or three different set-up operations for each component were required and bespoke fixturing had to be developed to cope with the different geometries and datum positions. 

Paul sums up, “At GB Precision we tackle some pretty tricky machining projects for customers from F1 to pharmaceutical, that’s our speciality – but this task certainly increased our knowledge and extended our capabilities. I think we can be justifiably proud that due to our expertise, components machined right here in Birmingham will help discover if life ever existed on Mars.”

Find out more on the GB Precision website.

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