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

A Salmon Arm artist worked with talented local fabricators to create an enormous set of steel bighorn sheep horns to greet visitors to Radium Hot Springs. (Village of Radium Hot Springs image)
Salmon Arm locals’ skills bring steel sheep horn sculpture to Radium

Adam Meikle and Idea 64 Projects made the towering horns a reality

Salmon Arm Silverbacks defenceman Kieran Ruscheinski (right) sticks close to Vernon Vipers forward Logan Lorenz during Salmon Arm’s 2-1 overtime win in B.C. Hockey League pod play Saturday, April 10, at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek - Vernon Vipers Photography)
Mack attack paces Salmon Arm Silverbacks past Vernon

Sullivan Mack scores both goals, including beautiful OT winner, in Gorillas’ 2-1 BCHL pod play win over Snakes

Machinery could be seen working to clear land behind a pair of houses on Main Street for the future site of the Shuswap and Secwepmc Healing Centre, a medical facility on Friday, April 9. The Sicamous Fire Department has been using the buildings for training exercises ahead of their demolition. (Jim Elliot/Eagle Valley News)
Snapshot: Clearing space

Land is being cleared for a new medical centre on Sicamous’ Main Street.

Winter driving conditions returned to the Coquihalla Highway on April 10. (ICBC image)
Coquihalla motorists warned of fresh snow

Five to 10 cm of snow is expected today for the mountain highway.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

A second case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at Vernon’s BX Elementary School. (Kerry Hutter photo)
Second COVID case confirmed at Okanagan elementary school

Exposure at Vernon’s BX Elementary happened April 6 and 7

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

Highway 97 being converted to four lanes in April 1990. This photo taken in Lake Country. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Photo #14025)
HISTORY: How the old Highway 97 in Lake Country got new name

Pelmewash Parkway recognizes the First Nations history in Lake Country

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Flight with COVID
Another Kelowna flight with COVID-19 exposure

Westjet flight on April 5 from Kelowna to Edmonton

Most Read