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Local company played a role in Mars landing

Technology: Tri Tek built electronic cable harnesses for backup unit

Posted: August 6, 2012 6:42 p.m.
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:42 p.m.

Tri-Tek Electronics employees posed in this photo from June 5, 2011, next to the mock up of JPL's Mars rover Curiosity. The team built the electronic harnesses for the unit.

While engineers from the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory applauded the successful landing of Curiosity late Sunday, employees from Valencia-based Tri Tek were cheering as well.

As a local supplier of electronics to the aerospace and defense industry, Tri Tek built the electronic harnesses for JPL’s Mars Rover mockup unit. And it also constructed a couple of the electronic cables that were installed on the real deal – Curiosity – to serve as backup in the event anything failed.

“We were all watching it last night; making sure everything was copacetic and went as it was supposed to,” said Anthony Lopez, operations manager for Tri Tek. “It was exciting to see that everything worked out.”
JPL builds redundant systems, Lopez said, so that if something happens to Curiosity while on Mars, engineers can work with the mockup rover to try and figure out how to resolve any problem encountered by Curiosity. All of Tri Tek’s electronic harnessing went onto the mockup version, he said.

Curiosity is the size of a small car and the work is like building electronics for that car, Lopez said. Everything has to work.

After Curiosity’s touchdown, JPL Director Charles Elachi told the Associated Press that “the tam came back with gold,” referring to the successful landing and comparing the team of engineers to Olympic athletes.

One doesn’t think about the end result on a day-to-day-basis when Tri Tek employees are building the products throughout the shop, Lopez said. But it is thrilling to see the byproduct of some of their work – products they touched with their own hands – land on Mars.

“It was exciting for them to see it all work,” Lopez said. “It’s no longer just wiring and routing but, in part, Curiosity wouldn’t function without what they built.”

Tri Tek just finished another project for JPL as well; the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science program. The company built all the flight harnesses on a mock up unit for routing and connection purposes that will operate that system. It will arrive on the International Space Station shortly.

NASA just issued contracts to Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada for the next phase of space pioneering in the private sector.

“We’re hoping that jump starts some of the aerospace work locally,” Lopez said. “There is a lot of young talent locally; it’s good for the United States.”


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