Pioneer Circuits’ Solutions Used in NASA's PUFFER Collapsible Bot


Reading time ( words)

The PUFFER (Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot) collapsible micro-rover is a part of NASA’s “Game Changing Development Program.” It is a compact rover that will ride on board with future space vehicles to land on space bodies such as planets and asteroids for photographs and microanalysis.

Figure 1: The original PUFFER prototype before working with Pioneer Circuits for the new hinge technology.

The PUFFER micro-rover utilizes a new, patented hinge technology containing a high-temperature woven fabric that is compatible with PWB rigid-flex manufacturing. JPL utilized Pioneer Circuits’ concurrent engineering services to help with the new developments that were a key enabler for the PUFFER project.

The Challenge

The PUFFER’s concept addresses the challenge of developing robotic mobility in space exploration. The PUFFER challenge was to design a micro-rover capable of surviving the harsh environments of deep space while also being able to collapse and fold into more compact forms that will fit into small areas for detailed photographs and surface analysis.

The original PUFFER prototypes were having issues with passing their cycle and drop test operations. Design challenges included the mechanical design of the rigid-flex PCB joints to be able to work on a repeatedly folding robot structure, and for the PCB’s copper traces to last the lifetime of the rover. The original materials used for the joints were not compatible with current PCB manufacturing processes, and the PUFFER was only able to withstand 1,000 test cycles—a very conservative number for a Mars application.

Through concurrent engineering, Pioneer Circuits found the material and developed a high-temperature woven fabric hinge technology that is compatible with PCB rigid-flex manufacturing. The rigid-flex circuit technology is integrated into a highly reliable, composite structure that is the first origami micro-rover configuration ever developed.

Puffer_fig2.JPGFigure 2: A close-up of Pioneer Circuits and JPL’S hinge technology with woven fabric.

To make the technology possible, Pioneer Circuits developed new bonding and process capabilities that are compatible with this unique challenge. Integration of the high-temperature woven material as a layer in the PCB stack-up allowed the mechanical and electrical functions to overcome limitations of typical polyimide builds. Using the material as a hinge would makes the PUFFER more reliable and able to repeatedly collapse without damaging the copper traces. The new PUFFER design was capable of withstanding drop-testing that simulated the harsh space body environments, and was is able withstand over 5,000 cycle tests—500% more than the original designs.

Puffer_fig3.JPGFigure 3: The final full and collapsed version of the PUFFER microrover.

Impact

Pioneer Circuits’ work with JPL on the development of the PUFFER has resulted in technology that is now being patented. The PUFFER micro-rover will now be able to ride on board with future space missions for thorough surface analysis. The collapsing capability allows the PUFFER’s microcamera to focus for microanalysis. This “Game Changing” development will give NASA and JPL a less-expensive opportunity to explore the surfaces of space that were never before reached.

Share

Print


Suggested Items

EIPC Technical Snapshot Review: Semi-additive Processes

12/01/2021 | Pete Starkey, I-Connect007
The development of ultra-high-density PCBs and packaging substrates using semi-additive and additive manufacturing processes was the theme of the 13th Technical Snapshot webinar presented by EIPC on November 24. It was introduced and moderated by technical director Tarja Rapala-Virtanen. Daniel Schulze, application engineering manager at Dyconex in Switzerland, gave the opening presentation, “Advanced high density rigid packaging substrates for RF and miniaturization.” He explained that with their long-established capabilities in ultra-high-density PCBs in flex, rigid-flex and rigid multilayer technologies, it was logical for Dyconex to apply their expertise to the development of specialist IC substrates.

Benchmarking Your Process Engineering

04/29/2021 | I-Connect007 Editorial Team
Mark Thompson has been in bare board fabrication for over 30 years. He is now laying out printed circuit boards at Monsoon Solutions, a high-tech design bureau near Seattle, Washington. With Mark’s extensive hands-on knowledge of PCB manufacturing, he brings a unique perspective to PCB design. In this discussion with the I-Connect007 editorial team, Mark shares what’s important from a process engineer’s point of view, and how to stay on top of evaluating and benchmarking your manufacturing process, along with insights from his new role as a designer.

Isola Releases IS550H Material

04/26/2021 | Nolan Johnson, I-Connect007
Nolan Johnson speaks with Michael Gay of Isola and Chris Hunrath of Insulectro about the release of their new halogen-free, high-thermal reliability material, which they hope fills the gap in the market between epoxies and polyimides.



Copyright © 2021 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.