A working model of the Curiosity Mars Rover (Rover) – the biggest robot to land on Mars – was officially unveiled for the first time in Africa on Tuesday afternoon by multinational electronics company Siemens at its Future of Manufacturing Conference at the Birchwood Conference Centre in Boksburg.
The actual Rover landed on Mars in August 2012 after travelling more than 560-million kilometres over nine months to get to its destination, where it has one shot at every single obstacle it tackles.
"Its construction had to be perfect and to take every risk into account. This includes the design of all 90 000 parts that work together inside the Rover, the complex entry and landing sequence on the Martian surface, and its survival in the planet's harsh environment," said Siemens communications and government affairs manager Keshin Govender.
He explained that, for this reason, the Rover model is sent around the world to demonstrate how the complex robot was put together, tested and how it operates on a day-to-day basis – largely using Siemens’ engineering software.
"Its unveiling here has marked its first visit to Africa," he stated.
Govender pointed out that, given the little knowledge among people of the extensive manufacturing and technology that had gone into assembling the Rover, the conference presented an ideal opportunity to inform the industry on its extensive simulation and testing processes on earth that make planetary exploration possible.
In partnership with US-based research and development centre Nasa - or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - Siemens used its computer-aided engineering software to test and simulate how the thousands of Rover parts would work together, and how much stress they could take from temperature, friction and pressure changes during the mission, using what is called kinetic simulation.
The Rover was put through the vacuum and extreme cold of deep space and also repressurised in the Martian atmosphere where it experienced extreme wind speed, vibration, noise, G-forces and then scorching heat and freezing cold.
Govender highlighted that the Rover does not make a move on Mars without it first being tested or simulated in some way.
An exact replica of the Rover is used at the Mars Yard at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where it is used to attempt recreated Martian obstacles before the one on Mars has a go at them.
The model unveiled at the conference is two-thirds of the size of the one on Mars and does not have a nuclear power source and laser.