World-class prototyping company Ogle Models & Prototypes, based in the UK, has been called on to help with numerous projects involving 3D printing, like this British Telecom phone model and parts for the remote-controlled AutoNaut drone. But the next project the company has been tapped for will take it out of this world (please pardon my gratuitous space joke), as Ogle will be helping to build the autonomous robotic vehicle that will be used to determine if life is possible on Mars. That’s right, the firm will be working on the Mars Rover! Europe plans to send the UK-assembled rover to Mars in 2021, so it needs to be ready to go up to space in less than five years…no pressure or anything.
Ogle has continued to evolve since its inception in 1954, by continuing to invest in new processes and technologies, like 3D printing. It was one of the first UK model making companies to invest in an SLA 3D printer nearly 20 years ago, and was also one of the first to work with SLS technology. Now, the model makers at Ogle have been asked to bring their expertise and precision to the ground-based prototype of the Rover; specifically, they will make the body and solar panels for a Mars Lander rover chassis, which will be used for terrain handling on the red planet, and also for testing purposes within laboratory conditions.
The Mars Rover will be sent up during the second phase of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars mission, “to follow up studies exploring the possibility of life on Mars, by drilling below the surface to detect organisms directly.” Europe’s leading defense and interplanetary enterprise Airbus Defence and Space is the second largest space business in the world. It approached Ogle to ask for help in creating a test vehicle that can be driven in two ways: via remote control, and autonomously, with body and solar panels mounted in place.
“When the UK Space Agency requested Airbus Defence & Space Ltd. to provide a Ground Demonstration Model (GDM) of the ExoMars Rover, Ogle Models & Prototypes were the obvious choice to provide the representative ‘bathtub’ structure and solar panels,” said a spokesman for Airbus Defence and Space. “Both these elements were required to be mass-limited whilst still providing the necessary stiffness to ensure the GDM would remain rigid when driving over rocks.”
Ogle used fiber faced aluminum composite Cellite panels in order to keep the weight of the body and solar panels down, and used a traditional CNC machine to create 15mm MDF jigs; the Cellite panels were cut out from these jigs using a table router. An automotive filler was used to fill any exposed edges on the panels, and the edges were then sanded back in order to make a seal. The model makers at Ogle were able to bond a threaded metal insert, to make sure that the fixing and bolts would stay secure while still being able to move.
According to Ogle’s press release, “The complete panels were then bonded onto SLS printed extrusions which, when assembled, formed a three-dimensional skeleton with the Cellite panels spanning the flat surfaces. The tub and solar array was finished in metallic gold which was matched to represent the radiation shielding on the real Mars Rover.”
To allow the solar array to unfold properly, Ogle also designed and 3D printed eight SLS hinges. The section was finished by printing large vinyls that featured the image of photovoltaic cells; the vinyls were then applied to the upper surfaces of the section.
“Whilst an array of CNC and SLS capabilities were used on this project, it was largely completed with bench model making skills to ensure each precise component functioned fully and fitted within the specific design and weight restrictions,” explained Dave Bennion, the Marketing and Sales Director for Ogle. “Having such wide spread technologies available on-site at Ogle allowed the team to react quickly in making last minute adjustments to parts before sending them to SLS or CNC. The combination of materials, machines and the highly-skilled team has resulted in a very rigid yet lightweight prototype.”
According to the Airbus spokesman, Ogle more than delivered, even offering up useful improvements to the initial design, and created “an excellent product on a tight schedule.” For a company that worked on the models of the Y Fighter and Luke Skywalker’s Land-speeder for the original Star Wars movies back in 1976, I’d say working on the Mars Rover brings it back full circle. Discuss in the Mars Rover forum at 3DPB.com.