IMTS Insider

ATI Sensor Goes to Mars!

Category: IMTS Network Mar 29, 2021

By Kathy Keyes Webster, AMT Exhibitions Content Manager – Correspondence

“ATI goes where robots go!” says Bob Little, CEO of ATI Industrial Automation in Apex, North Carolina. A longtime IMTS exhibitor, ATI worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop the breakthrough Space-Rated Force/Torque sensor that plays a role in gathering samples from the planet’s surface – a key element in NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

ATI’s Space-Rated Force/Torque Sensor: a large robotic arm with a drill and drill bits collect samples from designated areas on Mars. Once collected, a small robotic arm, known as the Sample Handling Assembly (SHA), inspects and seals them in the onboard lab. ATI’s Space-Rated force/torque Sensor integrates within the SHA end effector.

On February 18, 2021, Little sent every ATI employee the official NASA link to watch Perseverance land on the red planet. Undoubtedly, the landing was spectacular -- a grand event to cherish, and one that will likely impact our future.

“We feel a huge sense of pride seeing our work come to fruition. Our engineers flexed every creative muscle to custom design the Space-Rated Force/Torque sensor. The launch and landing are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Little.

ATI’s sensor starts working once Perseverance’s automated system begins to collect, handle, and index the material it harvests from Mars surface. “We certainly exhaled when Perseverance landed. Now we’re eager to see the sampling begin.”

ATI’s Force/Torque sensor integrates with the end effector on a small robotic arm, known as the Sample Handling Assembly (SHA), which inspects and seals samples in the rover’s onboard lab. With force sensing from ATI, the SHA is equipped to maneuver easily through the tight workspace inside the rover, performing demanding tasks with acute accuracy.

Often used in research and manufacturing industries, ATI’s Force/Torque sensors enable greater process control and provide process verification, such as indicating that a pin is inserted properly into a fixture.

This annotated image was taken by a parachute-up-look camera aboard the protective back shell of NASA's Perseverance rover during its descent toward Mars' Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.


The inner portion spells out "DARE MIGHTY THINGS," with each word located on its own ring of gores. The outer band of the canopy provides GPS coordinates for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the rover was built and the project is managed.

ATI knows how to engineer for challenging environments, having developed robotic tooling for nuclear decommissioning, foundries, underwater, food handling, and other diverse applications. The harshest environment they’ve faced, however, is the surface of Mars with an average temperature of -81o F and rugged terrain. ATI designed the space-rated sensor with signal redundancy and temperature compensation to ensure accurate resolution of forces and torques. To test these breakthrough features, ATI’s team designed specialized calibration equipment and conducted product trials with 24-hour surveillance.

They also used components made of thermal-stable, low-outgassing materials to fortify the sensor against drastic environmental fluctuations and to prevent cross-contamination of samples.

“Since repair opportunities are limited on Mars, the ATI Force/Torque sensor requires outstanding engineering,” says Stephen LaMarca, AMT Manufacturing Technology Analyst, co-host of  AMT Tech Trends podcast, and star of IMTS Network's  Road Trippin' with Steve. “From ATI’s sensor to the rover’s parachute embedded secret message — 'dare mighty things' — I have a feeling Perseverance is going to show us some mighty technology.”

To see where the sensor is located within rover, watch this video.

Visit to learn more about Perseverance.

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