Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)

Ron Sivorot, business director at Kennametal’s Langford site, the Greater Victoria facility that made a component being used on NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. (Jake Romphf, Black Press Media)

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover digging in with B.C.-made part

Kennametal’s Langford plant’s tooth blank is helping the rover’s drill collect rock cores

Greater Victoria’s Kennametal Inc. facility is used to making custom products for industry spanning every corner of the globe.

However, it’s the piece the plant made for a jobsite that’s currently over 200 million kilometres away that’s bringing the company an out-of-this-world amount of pride.

The site made a tungsten carbide tooth blank that’s currently mounted to a core drill on NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars last month. The blank is involved in one of the six-wheeled rover’s key tasks; cutting chalk-sized, intact rock cores that will hopefully be sent back to Earth and give a greater understanding into ancient microbial life on Mars.

“The team is just super enthusiastic and super excited,” said Ron Sivorot, business director at the Kennametal site in the Greater Victoria suburb of Langford. “Having it in use millions of miles away is actually pretty crazy.”

But even though they’re making a component used in space exploration, nothing really changed at the Langford site. Had nobody told the plant’s employees about the company’s involvement in the mission, they might’ve never known.

“The team on the shop floor didn’t even really know that there was anything going on, that it was anything different from anything else they make,” Sivorot said. “We make millions of pieces of carbide a year and to have these ones go to Mars, it’s obviously, definitely the farthest we’ve gone.”

Excitement started to grow in 2018 after Kennametal found out the blanks —which the Langford site has been supplying to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 2014 —would be aboard the interplanetary mission.

“It just kind of fit right into our work flow, so to be honest, we didn’t go above and beyond, this is basically the service we’re used to giving anyway, it just fit to serve NASA and JPL,” Sivorot said.

The Langford site employees watched from their work computers as the rover touched down on the red planet. Images of NASA’s control room engineers erupting with elation upon the six-wheeled rover’s interstellar landing matched the scene at the local Kennametal site. Sivorot said some of the plant’s space-loving employees were caught geeking out with celebratory air punches as they watched the landing back here on Earth.

READ: LIVE: You can watch NASA’s Rover landing on Mars today

The k92-grade tooth blank Kennametal makes for NASA looks like a small metal cube that’s smaller than a fingernail. To make the blank, Kennametal reforms powdered tungsten carbide by pressing, shaping and centring it and giving the piece a semi-finished grind. Once NASA gets the blank, they finish grinding the piece to their specific and high-tech requirements.

The k92-grade tooth blank is also used in industries like construction, oil and gas, agriculture and forestry. The Kennametal director said tungsten carbide is used because its strength and durability can perform in hostile scenarios.

“We have a variety of other customers that use it in similar applications, other than being on another planet,” Sivorot said. “We have a lot of confidence in this grade. It’s a very tough grade, fracture resistant, wear resistant, it’s an ideal grade for this solution, so we’re confident that it’ll do what it needs to do on Mars.”

NASA says Mars was 205 million kilometres form Earth when Perseverance landed, but the rover equipped with the Kennametal product travelled 471 million kilometres in total since last summer’s launch.

“Which is super wild,” Sivorot said, “it’s actually one of those fun stories you go home and tell your kids about.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:jake.romphf@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

LangfordVictoria

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Volunteers from Semiahmoo Secondary joined with members of the Lower Mainland Green Team and the White Rock and South Surrey Naturalists Wednesday to remove invasive plants from White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park in March. (Contributed photo)
Green Team, South Surrey students mark Earth Day with invasive plant removal

Volunteers to be on site at White Rock’s Ruth Johnson Park

rcmp
South Surrey neighbours’ calls to police lead to break-and-enter arrest

‘Prime example’ of RCMP and public working together, constable says

Members of the Wheeling 8’s dance group go on a roll at Surrey’s Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre in 2018, during the club’s 45th-anniversary event. If not for the pandemic, such activities could be socially prescribed as part of a new program involving Fraser Health and DiverseCity Community Resources Society. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
‘Social prescriptions’ connect Surrey seniors to activities and other services they need

Fraser Health-backed program involves GP referrals to a Seniors’ Community Connector with DiverseCity

Linda Annis, Aug. 12, 2020. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Annis wants independent auditor general for Surrey

‘Surrey taxpayers deserve the best possible oversight of the tax dollars they send to city hall,’ Surrey councillor says

SkyTrain’s end of the line, for now, in Whalley. (File photo)
Provincial budget watchers lament no mention of Surrey SkyTrain expansion

But $1.66 billion is earmarked for a second hospital for Surrey, in Cloverdale

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

Thousands have converged in Whonnock Lake Park to enjoy the nice weather. (Roxanne Hooper/The News)
Thousands enjoy B.C. park with warnings about social distancing

Portable toilets installed in anticipation of nice weather

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident tries to save vehicle from the Columbia River

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Playland at the PNE is set to reopen this May, with COVID-19 health and safety measures approved by the province. (Website/Playland)
VIDEO: Playland at PNE scheduled to reopen this May to masked customers

British Columbians are discouraged from travelling outside of their local health authority to visit the theme park

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson is photographed following her budget speech in the legislative assembly at the provincial legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. budget lacks innovative drive, vision during uncertain times, say experts

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget sets out to spend $8.7 billion over three years on infrastructure

Most Read