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Denbighshire-based high-tech company Laser Micromachining Limited (LML) is set to play a crucial role in a European Space Agency (ESA) mission to Mars after developing a vital component in the next generation of space technology.
North Wales company on mission to Mars
Swansea, UK | Posted on February 2nd, 2009
From its world-class laboratories at St Asaph's Technium OpTIC, LML is using its laser micromachining expertise to produce a critical element which will help to measure the wind speed and direction on the dusty red planet. The anemometer, as the instrument is better known, is set to be housed on the robotic Rover vehicle on the ExoMars mission set to launch in 2016.
"LML has been chosen to assist in the ExoMars mission because we have world-leading laser-based capabilities for producing the highly precise components needed to measure the direction and strength of the wind on Mars", said General Manager of LML, Dr Nadeem Rizvi. "Other techniques have been tried but have not been able to produce the very fine features required by the mission. This is a major technical development for the mission but also for future science investigations to come."
ExoMars is a European-led space exploration mission, currently under development by the European Space Agency (ESA), that will send a robotic Rover vehicle to the surface of Mars. The mission will search for signs for life on Mars, survey the Martian terrain and study the interior make-up of the red planet. Data from the mission should provide valuable input for broader studies of exobiology (the study of organisms originating from outside of Earth) as well as the search for life on other planets.
The anemometer, one of the scientific instruments used to gather data on the robotic Rover, requires a small rod of glass coated with a very thin layer of platinum (about a one thousandth of the thickness of a human hair). By using its laser micromachining technology, LML has developed a way of producing the very fine patterns on the platinum-coated rod which can essentially create a miniature electrical circuit. By connecting sensitive electronics to this platinum circuit and measuring the response of this device it is then possible to detect the strength and direction of the wind.
"The major challenge was to produce extremely fine and accurate patterns, as small as two hundredths of a millimetre, over the surface of a circular rod. We are proud to say that through the expertise and world-class facilities here at LML we have delivered what many thought was not possible and the detectors are being tested as we speak," said Dr Nadeem Rizvi. "Not only has our technology produced the strongest accuracies demanded in space projects but we have proven that laser micromachining is here, it can work and has the potential to be the number one technology of the future."
LML is also part of the XGEN consortium which was established in 2007 and consists of three Welsh Micro/Nanotechnology Centres of expertise. XGEN is a Welsh Assembly Government initiative designed to ensure industry has open access to state of the art facilities and equipment.
It brings together top micromachining and micro nanotechnology (MNT) organisations as a world-class platform to bridge the gap with industry and to capitalise on the wealth of high-quality research, experience and manufacturing capabilities available within Wales.
Ieuan Wyn Jones, Minister for the Economy and Transport, congratulated LML and said the company's technological capability was an example of the wealth of expertise in Wales:
"It's excellent news to hear of a Welsh company playing a key role in providing the vital technology needed to support such an exciting high profile space programme. Solving complex application problems has been a strength within each of XGEN's three member organisations and pulling these skills, experiences, know-how and technology together under one umbrella has made XGEN a force to be reckoned with on the international stage. The combination of these skills means that the wealth of expertise on offer can be applied to unique customer requirements enabling the development of practical, successful and cost-effective solutions for large and small businesses alike."
The three centres that unite under the XGEN brand are LML, MicroBridge Services Ltd and metaFAB
About Laser Micromachining Limited (LML)
LML is based at St Asaph’s OpTIC Technium and boasts a wide range of state-of-the art laser tools together with in-house diagnostic and metrology equipment providing customers with a comprehensive microfabrication service.
LML can help to exploit the benefits of laser micromachining equipment and expertise for companies and projects large or small. With over 35-years combined experience the team at LML guarantee high-quality services for demanding applications, a rapid turnaround and ultra-reliability on deadlines. Industrial sectors which LML is currently working with include, biotechnology, microelectronics, photonics, medical, energy, sensors and semiconductors. Laser processing technologies are developing rapidly
LML recently was the proud winner of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) MNT Quality Mark which recognises the quality of service provided by LML to micro and nanotechnology (MNT) industries.
Since its foundation in 2007, XGEN – a unique amalgamation of the UK's top micromachining and MNT organisations – has established an international reputation for technical innovation and expertise.
XGEN is a unique initiative which combines expertise to far exceed what individual UK-based companies can offer. By working in partnership the three XGEN firms are able to provide service solutions previously not available to industry. In the past several different providers were necessary to offer what XGEN can now seamlessly provide. The objective of this innovative collaboration is to meet the challenges of an ever-changing and fast-growing global market.
LML, MicroBridge and metaFAB are three Wales-based companies working together to exploit emerging micro and nanotechnologies (MNT) and showcase world-class research, development and production facilities.
A one-stop-shop that ensures a streamlined service and increased manufacturing efficiency through collaboration and innovation.
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