Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - September 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
New Ulm to New Planet
NASA’s Curiosity rover lands on Mars with help from a custom component manufactured by New Ulm’s Windings Inc.
On August 6, NASA’s Curiosity rover was lowered gently to the dusty Martian surface by cables descending from the spacecraft flight system’s sky crane, which hovered overhead. The delicate process left no room for error, and its success capped the rover’s 350-million-mile journey to the Red Planet. Over the next two years, Curiosity will travel to various locations on Mars gathering chemical and geological evidence to determine whether the planet has ever been habitable.
For employees at Windings Inc., a custom electric motor and generator component manufacturer in New Ulm, Curiosity’s landing was especially gratifying. A custom-built Windings stator is a key part of the sky crane’s dynamic braking system, which controlled Curiosity’s descent speed from the sky crane to the planet’s surface. While smaller rovers of past Mars missions have used airbag landing systems, Curiosity’s sheer size, which is comparable to a Mini Cooper, necessitated the more complex touchdown system. The $2.5 billion rover is the largest ever sent to explore another world.
Windings President and CEO Jerry Kauffman says building the stator required “excruciating attention to detail,” rigid quality inspections and meticulously clean conditions. Employees donned smocks and gloves, and examined each individual strand of the stator’s copper wiring under magnification to ensure quality. Kauffman says employees feel Curiosity’s historic landing was well worth the effort involved.
“A mission like this clearly meets that intrinsic need that we have as people to say, ‘I was part of something that was really unique or special,’” Kauffman says. “It makes you feel good about spending so much time searching every skinny little wire underneath a microscope. It was really hard to do, but we did it successfully and contributed.”
Windings components have played roles in multiple outer space missions, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) launched in 2010 to study solar variability and its effects on Earth, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launched in 2009 to study the dark side of the Earth’s moon, and the Deep Impact mission launched in 2005 to study the physical makeup of comets. Its components can also be found on the International Space Station. Typically, Windings stators contribute to spacecraft antenna systems, allowing them to position antennae with pinpoint precision to send and receive vital information between spacecraft and mission control. The Curiosity mission is Windings’ first time contributing to a spacecraft braking system.
Though the job of transporting Curiosity is done, Kauffman says the feeling of accomplishment among Windings employees remains.
“It’s exciting for us because everybody is talking about it,” Kauffman says of the mission. “It captures the imagination. It’s pretty amazing to think about this vehicle on Mars that’s going to be driving around and exploring up there and sending back information, and we helped to deliver it safely.”
For more information about Windings, visit www.windings.com
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