Arun Micro > 2015 > July

Taking Steps to Mars

2015 will go down as the year that US space agency NASA brought us the most detailed view of Pluto yet. And in just 15 years’ time, according to plans already in place, NASA will conduct a manned mission to Mars, which could answer the age-old question of whether there is life on other planets.  However, as Mars is approximately 225,300,000 km from the Earth, getting there is no mean feat and will need to be done in stages.  Fortunately, through robotic probes and experimentation carried out on the International Space Station, this process has already begun.

The Next Step to Mars

The next stage on the journey to Mars is to capture an asteroid.  Technically, this will be part of a multi-ton boulder broken off an asteroid during a robotic mission called ARM (Asteroid Redirect Mission).  Choosing a suitable asteroid is the first part of this process and, in looking for a suitable candidate, NASA has discovered over 1,000 new near-Earth objects.  So far the agency has narrowed down the choice to four possibilities, based on velocity, orbit, size and spin.  Once the asteroid is chosen, a piece broken off and put into orbit around the moon, it will become a testing ground for the technology required for the mission to Mars.

The use of robots is nothing new in the attempt to reach Mars.  In fact, robotic missions have been landing on Mars for nearly 40 years.  They have already made amazing discoveries, including the fact that snow falls there, the highest temperature is -19.6C, the lowest -97.7 and there is a substance there called Perchorate, from which microbes can obtain energy.

The Phoenix Mars Lander

These discoveries were made by the Phoenix Mars Lander in 2008. Its aim was to assess the climate and geology, and to prepare for human exploration.  Landing in the Northern Arctic plain, it studied water, ice and soil in this region.  An important part of the rover was the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyser (MECA), which conducted important experiments on the surface of Mars.

The MECA’s main purpose was to characterise Mars’ soil by subjecting it to a series of tests.  Some involved mixing the soil with other materials and one involved studying samples with a microscope that could magnify images to 10 nanometers, which was the smallest ever on Mars.  The samples were moved through each of these sets of experiments by a stepper motor created by Arun Microelectronics Ltd, which was designed specifically to work in ultra-high vacuum conditions. Additionally, by reducing the mechanical complexity of the units, avoiding metal-to-metal sliding surfaces and ensuring they had low outgassing characteristics, AML was able to ensure the stepper motor was suitable for sensitive handling applications.

NASA's plans to put a human being on Mars during the 2030s, by capturing an asteroid on which to experiment, are huge and exciting but they would not be possible without precise engineering and experimentation here on Earth.

To find out how AML can fulfil your Ultra High Vacuum equipment requirements call 01903 884141 or email

Samantha Cristoforetti Breaks a World Record on her First Space Mission

Between November 2014 and June 2015, Samantha Cristoforetti broke the world record for the longest space mission by a woman.  The previous record was held by Sunita Williams, who spent 195 days in space in 2012.  Cristoforetti's record was set by accident when a Russian space agency freighter burnt up on re-entry causing Cristoforetti's return to be delayed by a month while the accident was investigated meaning she spent 199 days in space.  This was a mission of firsts:

First Mission – First Coffee

As an Italian airforce fighter pilot, Samantha Cristoforetti had plenty of hours of flight time but this was her first mission into space.  She travelled a total of 84 million miles on her round trip to the International Space Station and back to Earth.  While she was there, she conducted a number of important experiments which could have huge implications for life here on Earth.  However, she is best known for being the first person to drink from the ISSpresso machine: the first espresso machine to operate in zero-gravity using capsules.

Potentially Ground Breaking Experiments

Some of Cristoforetti's experiments involved testing new medical technology.  One involved testing to see if nanoparticles could be used on bone cells to prevent osteoporosis.  Another involved using microgravity to manipulate cell shape by interfering with the cytoskeleton of the cell to start a cascade of reactions that could affect all the major cell functions.  This technology, if perfected, could be used to treat connective tissue diseases, osteoporosis and cancer.

The Future of Space Exploration

Scientific breakthroughs are nothing new on the International Space Station and in 2014 they made a major breakthrough in ongoing space exploration.  The Space Station's 3D printer created a ratcheting socket wrench for the astronauts to use.  Although it doesn't sound that dramatic, it demonstrates that astronauts can make tools for themselves in space without having to wait for them to be sent from Earth.  This has huge implications for sustainable space exploration as astronauts will no longer be dependent on their connection to Earth enabling them to go further than they have ever gone before.

All of these breakthroughs, those on Samantha Cristoforetti's mission and those of the International Space Station, are due to experimentation and manufacturing capabilities on Earth. Ultra High Vacuum equipment is crucial for space technology development. Contact AML today to find out how their high level of expertise can help you by phoning 01903 884141 or via