Rochester on Mars: Local companies featured on NASA’s rover

Digital Exclusives

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The newest Mars rover from the US, Perseverance, touched down on the red planet. It was one of three Mars rockets launched in 2020; the two others were from China, and the United Arab Emirates.

Ground controllers at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, cheered and exchanged fist bumps and high-fives in triumph — and relief — on receiving confirmation.

Perseverance, the biggest, most advanced rover ever sent by NASA, became the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, every one of them from the U.S.

More| NASA rover lands on Mars to look for signs of ancient life

The car-size, plutonium-powered vehicle arrived at Jezero Crater, hitting NASA’s smallest and trickiest target yet: a 5–by-4-mile strip on an ancient river delta full of pits, cliffs and fields of rock. Scientists believe that if life ever flourished on Mars, it would have happened 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, when water still flowed on the planet.

That excitement was also shared by two Rochester-connected companies: the Rochester-based Optimax, and Exxelia (who has an office in Honeyoye Falls, but is headquartered in Paris).

Optimax made lenses on a number of systems on Perseverance: Navcams, HazCams, CacheCam, Mastcam, and SHERLOC; where as Exxelia created a special kind of electric resistor called the “Exxelia micropen.”

Some of these visual tools are for simple photos and video, whereas SHERLOC is an ultraviolet sensing unit.

“We made most of these optics in 2017,” said Joseph Spillman, director of marketing for Optimax. “We start talking about these programs for a long time.”

He puts the impact of the company’s contribution pretty simply: “Almost all of the images you see coming from Mars, coming from this rover, are going to be coming from lenses made in Rochester.”

Spillman also says that Optimax has been working with NASA since the optics company started. According to their website, they have provided optics for the Mercury Messenger, the International Space Station, the Lunar Reconnaissance, as well as the other Mars rovers, Curiosity, Spirit, and Opportunity.

Exxelia also had their resistors ready in 2017; a landing four years in the making, says Eric Van Wormer Vice President of Exxelia Micropen. But their association with NASA also spans decades, contributing parts to the previous three rovers.

The resistor itself is the product of the three centerpieces of Exxelia, according to Van Wormer: customizability, reliability, and high performance. They manage the voltages and currents throughout a number of systems.

All of the Micropens are designed and manufactured in Honeyoye Falls.

He also says that everyone at Optimax was streaming the event, and waiting with baited breath for the landing. But he says that they were just as much rooting for NASA, as well as the other contractors.

This whole mission to Mars is likely to take until 2035, said Michael Richmond, the director of the RIT Observatory. He says the the rover will collect samples, in its quest for finding life on Mars, then leave those samples in containers.

Another mission will be flown to deploy a system to retrieve those samples into another container, and fly them into Mars’s orbit. Then a third rocket will be launched to gather all of the materials.

Perseverance will be feeding back images and data, as well.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Honoring Black History Logo

Trending Stories

Covid-19 County by County tracker

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss