A Low Mass Translation Mechanism for Planetary FTIR Spectrometry Using an Ultrasonic Linear Motor


One of the key components of a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR) is the linear translation stage used to vary the optical path length between the two arms of the interferometer. This translation mechanism must produce extremely constant velocity motion across its entire range of travel to allow the instrument to attain high signal-to-noise ratio and spectral resolving power. A new spectrometer is being developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory under NASA’s Planetary Instrument Definition and Development Program (PIDDP). The goal of this project is to build upon existing spaceborne FTIR spectrometer technology to produce a new instrument prototype that has drastically superior spectral resolution and substantially lower mass, making it feasible for planetary exploration. In order to achieve these goals, Alliance Spacesystems, Inc. (ASI) has developed a linear translation mechanism using a novel ultrasonic piezo linear motor in conjunction with a fully kinematic, fault tolerant linear rail system. The piezo motor provides extremely smooth motion, is inherently redundant, and is capable of producing unlimited travel. The kinematic rail uses spherical Vespel rollers and bushings, which eliminates the need for wet lubrication, while providing a fault tolerant platform for smooth linear motion that will not bind under misalignment or structural deformation. This system can produce velocities from 10 – 100 mm/s with less than 1% velocity error over the entire 100-mm length of travel for a total mechanism mass of less than 850 grams. This system has performed over half a million strokes under vacuum without excessive wear or degradation in performance. This paper covers the design, development, and testing of this linear translation mechanism as part of the Planetary Atmosphere Occultation Spectrometer (PAOS) instrument prototype development program.

Proceedings fo the 37th Aerospace Mechanisms Symposium
Alejandro Soto
Alejandro Soto
Senior Research Scientist

I am a planetary scientist and aerospace engineer.