Patents on Mars

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An amazing video was released recently by NASA showcasing the 13 mile journey of NASA’s Opportunity rover across the Martian landscape from one crater to another. Sure the video isn’t flashy and not for those with the limited attention spans of our MTV and Twitter society, but at least it is more interesting than the 2000 dual-combo movie stinkers Red Planet and Mission to Mars. As an aside, has Val Kilmer even done a good movie since Heat? Sure, his turns in The Saint and as the voice of KITT in the Knight Rider reboot were alright, but The Steam Experiment? I don’t even need to make a joke here, do I?

Anyway, in honor of this fascinating achievement, I wanted to examine some of the interesting patents related to Mars exploration.

Mars exploration rover Athena — US D487,715 S

Mars exploration rover athena

A design patent for the Mars exploration rover.

The first is a design patent of the rover itself. What is most interesting to me is the 6 wheel design, to help the rover navigate the rocky terrain on Mars, and the large solar arrays that provide power to the rover’s lithium ion batteries.

Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 isolate — US 7,262,047 B

Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 isolate

Getting up close and personal with bacteria.

The patent relates to isolating a particular type of bacteria spore that is capable of surviving typical spacecraft sterilization processes, and is resistant to UV rays that are present on Mars. If present and future rovers are going to test for characteristics related to past or current life on Mars, they have to be certain that the life is not actually bacteria from Earth that happened to survive the treacherous journey to Mars.

Lithium Ion Electrolytes and Lithium Ion Cells with Good Low Temperature Performance — US 2009/253046 A1

Lithium Ion Cell

Like the batteries you have in your digital camera...but way better!

This lithium ion battery is designed with the future in mind. It must be lightweight, provide enough energy to power several pieces of electronic equipment, work in the extreme temperature ranges, and have a long life span. No, we aren’t talking about powering the photographer for your third cousin’s wedding reception, but rather powering future Mars rovers and landers.

Method and Apparatus for Powered Descent Guidance — US 2010/0228409 A1


Remember this from your advanced math classes?

When future space probes reach Mars, what is the most important thing when deploying the lander and rover? Why, not crashing it and losing the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the project, of course. Unless that probe contains Val Kilmer, then by all means (just kidding–man, he’s really taking a beating today). An accurate landing is essential for all further missions, and therefore the technology to get it right needs to be put in the hands of some very smart people.

Next time: I offer Val Kilmer five bucks to take my abuse with kindness and good humor. He accepts as he really needs the money until the Top Gun sequel starts shooting.

Patent Information from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Registered Patent Agent Dan Wolka and edited by Chris Jagalla. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.


5 Responses

  1. If Netflix is still an operating business by the time you get this, request Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) with Robert Downey, Jr. Val Kilmer absolutely shines in this movie. It reminds you that the Juilliard graduate who was fantastic in Tombstone (1993) can really act.
    -We’re Dog People (

    • I have heard of that movie, but have never seen it. Might be a good time to check it out.

      Val Kilmer reminds me of Nicolas Cage, in that they are both talented actors when they want to be, but must have a spending problem as they take some much terrible work. For Cage, we know that is true. For Kilmer, it must be food.

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