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

Fraser Health staff prepare for the reopening of Irene Thomas Hospice in Delta on April 15, 2021. (Fraser Health photo)
Delta hospice at centre of MAiD fight to reopen Thursday

Fraser Health will reopen all 10 beds at the facility on April 15

Surrey-raised Tetsuro Shigematsu wrote and stars in “1 Hour Photo,” a Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre’s production to be presented online by Surrey Civic Theatres on April 23-24. (submitted photo/Raymond Shum)
‘This Japanese kid who grew up in Whalley’ thrilled to return with acclaimed ‘1 Hour Photo’

City’s Digital Stage to show Tetsuro Shigematsu’s solo portrait of Mas Yamamoto

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including South Surrey’s Pacific Highway should ‘not be left behind’

Fish processing workers fillet farm-raised salmon in Surrey B.C. Photo courtesy BCSFA
Discovery Islands salmon farm removal impacts jobs in B.C.’s Lower Mainland: report

The City of Surrey is the hub of the salmon farming industry in Metro Vancouver

Surrey School District building. (File photo)
‘We’re in a financial lockdown’: Surrey school district working with $40M budget deficit

District, board points to lack of immigration for new student enrolment

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among the encouraged ventilation measures

Most Read