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Tektronix Innovation Bolsters the Future of Space Exploration

As the phenomenal new images from the James Webb Space Telescope came out this week, letting us see farther into space than ever before, Tektronix and Keithley are honored to be on the contributors list for the telescope.

“Keithley Instruments, Tektronix company, worked with the NASA Glenn Research Center in Ohio to perform low level measurements for the cryogenic development on the James Webb Telescope,” said James Hitchcock, General Manager, SMU & Instrumentation for Tektronix.

This latest collaboration with NASA is one in a long line of contributions, Tektronix is proud to have made in outer space. For the past 76 years, as humans have reached further into the vast expanse of space, put satellites into orbit and people on the surface of the moon, Tektronix and Keithley have been at the forefront of space exploration, giving private companies and government organizations the ability to execute many successful and pivotal space missions.

Measuring Technological Success for Historical and Modern Space Exploration

Within the space community, there has been a long-standing friendship with Tektronix/ Keithley’s instruments and the engineers responsible for many pivotal innovations in space exploration.

Tektronix and the Atlas Program

In 1958, companies like Lockheed, Convair and General Dynamics all produced components for the Atlas program and made extensive use of Tektronix instruments in their development of the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile which was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral on August 2, 1958.

Tektronix and the Apollo Moon Mission

Tektronix and Keithley provided instrument testing and measurement for the Apollo moon mission. Early recorded internal communications in 1962 reveal the initial conversations for Tektronix’s involvement with the North American Aviation (NAA) space vehicle for in-flight testing, which led to the use of Tektronix’s equipment for NASA’s Apollo program.

Oscilloscopes utilized within Apollo 10 and 11 were Tek’s Type 140 NTSC Test Signal Generator and 520 Vectorscope, which were featured in a 1969 TekWeek article on instruments used in the Apollo Mission. The feature shined a light on Tek’s important role in testing color transmission for broadcast applications, but the company’s equipment was used in all phases during the mission’s 10-year preparation.

Perseverance Mars Rover Landing

In 2021, Tektronix was recognized for its role in the successful landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars in which Tek’s MSO5000 oscilloscopes were utilized for sensor testing. Tektronix also received a “Thank you” note from NASA.  

“Thank you all for what you do,” says a note to the Tektronix team and other partners from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. “Today is just a moment in time but it shows what is possible and the amazing amount of effort and teamwork everyone put in to make landing on another planet such a success.”

Functions for the Mars rover include power quality measurements for the rover’s various power lines and scope version digital scanners to ensure the accuracy and quality of those power lines. The work produced by Tek’s field engineers has made a profound impact on the mission’s success.

“To me, seeing images like those from the Mars rover landing is the whole reason I love our work knowing that we make equipment that allows other people to do their jobs well. They can do their jobs faster and more accurately,” said Bradley Odhner, Tektronix AMR Technical Marketing Manager.

 NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals never-before-seen details of galaxy group “Stephan’s Quintet”

Current Initiatives for the Future of Space Exploration 

With efforts to place people on Mars, Tektronix is one of the hundreds of companies in collaboration with NASA to support the Artemis Mars mission as ORION deep space suppliers, a behemoth mission with an overall budget of $6.88 billion.  

Current contributions from Tektronix towards efforts at the NASA Glenn Research Center are primarily on testing ion pulse engines, as well as research and battery testing for the X-57 Maxwell electric plane. With the aspiration for long missions to Mars or further exploration into space, the biggest area in which the company plays a part is testing power for the propulsion needed for successful missions.

Critical measurements from Tektronix and Keithley serve towards possible solutions of manned and unmanned challenges centered around power. For Joe McKeever, U.S. Military/Government Account Manager, this is a special project to see Tektronix and Keithley products powering innovations for the NASA Glenn team.

“It’s amazing to go to these facilities which have piles of Keithley equipment,” said Joe McKeever. “With Mars being on the horizon, I see greater areas of a long-standing collaboration with the [space] community towards innovations in the future.”

Meanwhile, the James Webb Space Space Telescope images have arrived and they were worth the wait. Work on the telescope began in 2004. Keithley’s involvement began around 2019 and the images that came out this week will forever change the way we see the universe.

James Hitchcock said being a part of such an enormous project is not taken lightly by Keithely engineers. “We are honored to work with the scientist at the Glenn Research Center on precision thermal characterization of the systems on the James Webb Telescope,” he said.

The Tektronix team has immense pride in working with these key missions towards space exploration possibilities. From a Tektronix and Keithley perspective, the goal towards the future of space exploration encompasses critical questions on how to keep systems in space running the further from the sun they go and how to regulate and keep future initiatives safe for all in collaboration, including Tektronix and Keithley engineers in the field.

“Tektronix/Keithley is not just a company that sells measurement devices,” said Joe McKeever. “It’s the people in the field… we have members that are a part of these teams. We are a part of the mission.”