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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Mission to Mars!: The UT Research Behind the QOA Microchip for NASA's Curiosity Rover Currently Exploring Mars

Ben BlalockCollege of Engineering - Analog Electronics

Along with two of my research students, Stephen Terry and Robert Greenwell, I partnered with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA Center of Excellence for robotic space exploration, in the design and development of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Quad Operational Amplifier (QOA) microchip. This microchip is used in the Curiosity’s motor controller electronics for wheel motors, robotic arm actuator motors, camera positioning motors, and other functions. Over ninety copies of the QOA microchip are used on the MSL Mars rover, distributed on the periphery of the Curiosity. The QOA microchips are exposed to the ambient environment on the Mars surface, subjected daily to −120°C to +20°C temperature swings.  No commercially available electronic component could meet JPL’s rigorous requirements, including potential re-use for asteroid missions. This presentation provides an overview of the past research effort at UT behind the QOA chip for Mars…and beyond.

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