TE News: TE Connectivity relays aboard unprecedented mission to Mercury

TE’s ruggedly reliable KILOVAC K41R high voltage relay utilized on historic BepiColombo spacecraft



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Sept 30, 2021

A tiny product from TE Connectivity, a world leader in connectors and sensors, is set to fly by the planet Mercury Oct. 1 as an integral part of the BepiColombo spacecraft. Launched in 2018, BepiColombo, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is a seven-year interplanetary journey to the smallest and least explored terrestrial planet in our Solar System. The upcoming first flyby is part of a mission to investigate and gain a deeper understanding of Mercury. The science mission involves two planetary orbiters, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter. Both are carried from Earth to Mercury orbit by the Mercury Transfer Module, effectively a space-tug, equipped with a high-power electric propulsion system that utilizes TE’s ruggedly reliable KILOVAC K41R high voltage relay. 


KILOVAC relays have been used in space applications for more than 40 years, since the first mission in lunar landing equipment in the 1970s. Today, they are used throughout the International Space Station, on NASA’s Curiosity Rover on Mars as well as extensively in space satellites. 


“The KILOVAC relays have a long history of proven reliability in space missions and applications,” said Karl Kitts, senior manager, advanced systems and architecture in TE’s Aerospace, Defense & Marine Division. “The extensive testing process built a high degree of confidence in the relay’s suitability for the application and, for many engineers who have specified relays over the years, the KILOVAC relay is synonymous with rugged reliability in the most demanding environments.”


The KILOVAC K41R high voltage relay uses a vacuum dielectric to achieve a compact size of 2.5-inch length and a weight of 1 ounce. It has a mechanical life of 1 million cycles and a fast-operating speed of 6 milliseconds, making it a highly reliable solution for space applications. The high voltage relay plays a crucial role in the power distribution of the low and high voltage power required by the electric propulsion used to control the spacecraft orientation, direction and speed. 


“It’s the ability of these relays to perform in the extreme conditions of the space environment while handling high voltages that make them particularly suitable for missions like BepiColombo,” says Peter Kohlmeier, program manager for TE’s Aerospace, Defense and Marine Division. “Performance, reliability and safety in harsh environments are incredibly important priorities for our space industry partners, and TE has the engineering expertise to align with these priorities.” 


The historic BepiColombo mission is named in honor of the Italian mathematician and engineer, Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo and is scheduled to complete a total of six flyby events before arriving at the planet by Dec. 5, 2025, when it would become only the third mission to date to visit Mercury.


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TE Connectivity is a global industrial technology leader creating a safer, sustainable, productive, and connected future. Our broad range of connectivity and sensor solutions enable the distribution of power, signal and data to advance next-generation transportation, renewable energy, automated factories, data centers, medical technology and more. With more than 85,000 employees, including 8,000 engineers, working alongside customers in approximately 140 countries, TE ensures that EVERY CONNECTION COUNTS. Learn more at www.te.com and on LinkedIn, Facebook, WeChat, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter).

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