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 woman crosses 176th Street in Cloverdale April 12, 2021. 176th will not host Cloverdale Market Days this year as the popular street fest is just the latest casualty in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Cloverdale Market Days cancelled again

Organizer says popular street fest will return in 2022

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions against new model; BCSS and its board in favour

Vintage scrapbooks gave way to Instagram and Facebook. (Photo: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis)
COLUMN: Prince Philip just got on with it—to our surprise

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis reflects on the passing Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

The Delta Police Department’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit: (from left) Const. Joel Thirsk, analyst Jody Johnson and Staff Sgt. Sukh Sidhu. (Delta Police Department photo)
Delta police respond to rising number of hate crimes

Police have received 15 reports so far in 2021, compared to 12 in all of 2020

Researchers say residents should leave sleeping bats alone while they exit hibernation. (Cathy Koot photo)
Spring ‘signal’ brings White Rock, Surrey bats out of hibernation

Community Bat Programs of BC says it’s best to leave sleeping bats alone

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks about the province’s COVID-19 vaccine plans during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
P.1 variant likely highest in B.C. due to more testing for it: Dr. Henry

Overall, just under 60% of new daily cases in the province involve variants

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

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

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Dr. Bonnie Henry – in a B.C. health order that went into effect April 12 – granted WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce workplace closures with COVID-19 spread. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
24 workplace closures being enforced in Fraser Health under new COVID-19 order

WorkSafe inspectors the power to enforce closures if COVID-19 has spread to 3 or more employees

Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue were conducting training operations at Gold Creek Falls when a firefighter broke their leg. (Eileen Robinson photo - Special to The News)
Firefighter suffers broken leg during swift water rescue practice in Golden Ears park

A training exercise at Maple Ridge waterfall on Wedesday results in mishap

Most Read