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From Sumter to Mars: SC company's parts critical to NASA's Rover operation

SKF manufacturing hub in Sumter produced components for exploration of planet

SUMTER, S.C. — On July 30, 2020, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched its Mars 2020 Mission featuring rover named Perseverance. The rover's mission is to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for analysis and possible return to Earth.

On Feb. 18, 2021, Perseverance touched down in the Jezero Crater on Mars, along with the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity. Together, the research machines have been gathering samples and data from the Red Planet for an Earthbound team of scientists.

What may not be widely known is that specialized ball bearings -- crucial parts used in the assembly of Perseverance -- were manufactured in Sumter, South Carolina, at the recently expanded SFK (formerly Kaydon) site. The components are part of Perseverance's main robotic arm, sample collecting turret, tool bit carousel and sample handling assembly during a months-long trip through space, and its function as intended on the Mars surface. 

The company also provided critical bearings used in the mission's launch vehicle that carried the rover and lander into space.

Credit: SFK/Kaydon
An example of the ultra-thin engineered bearings manufactured by SFK/Kaydon

“The bearings we designed and built to help the rover perform its core science activities were based on several models of Kaydon thin-section ball bearings customized by our engineers to minimize weight and save space, while retaining maximum functionality and reliability for a mission where repair or replacement is simply not an option,” said Isidoro Mazzitelli, Director of Product Development and Engineering Americas. Space applications must be a small fraction of the weight of standard bearing assemblies.

You can keep up-to-date with Perseverance's mission at mars.nasa.gov/mars2020