When you want to take precision engineering to Mars, you need a partner that’s out of this world.

Castrol Braycote, keeps NASA's Mars Rover roving

Keith Campbell, Castrol Industrial Lubricants

Date: October 2016
Location: New Jersey
Mars in an extreme environment. You’re talking temperatures of maybe 20 degrees Celsius (68 degree Fahrenheit) in the summer and at the polar extremes temperatures of negative 153 degrees Celsius (negative 243 degrees Fahrenheit).

When you’re sending machinery into space, if it has a moving part, it needs lubrication. And when it’s a mission to Mars you don’t get a second chance. You know that anything that goes wrong could jeopardise a mission that is years in the making and costs many million dollars.

Castrol’s Braycote lubricant was developed for NASA at pretty much the start of the space programme in the 60s and to this day it is used to keep the Mars Rover roving and the International Space Station in its 17,000 mph (27,400 km/h) orbit around our planet.

As well as operating in extreme temperatures, Braycote has been formulated to reduce what is known as “outgassing”, which is the evaporation of the grease, meaning that instruments can work at optimum levels, even at extremely high temperatures.

It is used in the Mars Rover Opportunity, which was launched as a 90-day mission and has been working for more than 12 years now, still travelling around Mars. It actually broke the record for the longest distance travelled by a man-made vehicle on another planet or moon. 

It’s also on the Mars Rover Curiosity, which was meant to be a two-year mission and has been up there for nearly four years now.

Now Castrol is working with the many space agencies and the burgeoning space tourism industry to supply its Braycote lubricant. It can also be used down on earth in manufacturing involving vacuums or with hostile chemicals and extreme environments. 

That’s a benefit to the semi-conductor and microchip industry, electronics, flat panel display and hard disk manufacturers. Other uses include commercial aircraft and anyone who might want to put a piece of equipment in the Arctic Circle for an extended period.

It’s an amazing industry to work in. Everyone I meet in it knows how cool the work is that we are doing. And for our distributors, it’s a really interesting thing to talk about with their customers. When I look up at the stars of the night sky, I find it stunning to think that – somewhere up there – are the fruits of my labours.