NASA Awards Contract to Seattle-based Company and Western Washington University

Engineering-services firm First Mode and the university are jointly developing technology that will be used in an upcoming Mars mission
Updated: Thu, 10/03/2019 - 10:00
 
 
  • Engineering-services firm First Mode and the university are jointly developing technology that will be used in an upcoming Mars mission
Rending of a 3D goniometer.

Seattle-based First Mode and Western Washington University have landed a contract from NASA to develop geological-research technology that will help advance scientific understanding of Mars surface and its history as NASA prepares for its Mars 2020 Rover mission.

The automated technology being developed, called a goniometer, will make possible extremely accurate 3D measurements of rock samples at different angles. The work is being funded by NASA’s Planetary Science Division and the resulting technology, including the goniometer design and software, also will be released publicly.

“First Mode is excited to partner with Western Washington University (WWU) and NASA as we seek to improve our understanding of the Martian surface,” Chris Voorhees, president and chief engineer of First Mode, says. “As we prepare for further surface missions, including the Mars 2020 Rover and Mars Sample Return, a solid base of scientific research and understanding is essential in getting the most from our robotic systems.”

First Mode is an engineering-services firm based in downtown Seattle that applies deep-space exploration technologies to a variety of industries, both on and off planet Earth. Voorhees worked previously as a lead engineer for several of NASA’s Mars-rover missions.

The dollar value of the goniometer-development NASA contract is $150,000, according to a First Mode spokesperson, although First Mode also has landed a much larger contract with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to assist it with the Mars 2020 Rover mission, which will send a 2,300-pound rover to Mars’ surface. The dollar value of that contract has not yet been disclosed. The rover mission will carry instruments that will make measurements similar to those that the goniometer will make at the WWU lab where it is being developed.

“I couldn't be more excited about continuing to work on this research,” says Kathleen Hoza, a systems engineer and geologist at First Mode who developed a 2D goniometer protype while pursuing her master’s degree in geology at WWU under Melissa Rice, who will serve as the principal investigator for the NASA contract. “The science potential is significant and far-reaching, and we have a powerful combined team with experts from First Mode and Western Washington University.”

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