mars rover
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, the biggest, heaviest, most advanced vehicle sent to the Red Planet by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is seen on Mars in an undated illustration provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS

Sector Microwave Industries, a Deer Park-based manufacturing company, is creating technology that is literally out of this world.

The manufacturer’s satellite switches are currently attached to the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover spacecraft for NASA’s space mission and have also gone to other planets, including Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto. The switches transmit various data, such as photos from the space mission, back to Earth. They also serve as the backup in case any other part of the spacecraft malfunctions.

“If our switches fail, the mission fails,” says Bill Nelson, vice president of Sector Microwave. “It’s very critical to the mission that they work. 

“There’s lots of equipment on there — amplifiers, antennas, all sorts of gears,” he adds. “If any of those have a problem, we reroute the information to the backup. Everything goes through us.”

Nelson’s father, Victor Nelson, is the president of Sector Microwave and started the business in 1974. Victor became well acquainted with waveguide technology as an aircraft carrier and radar operator serving in World War II. After the war, he became an engineer, which led him to the path of patenting his own work.

Now, at 96 years old, Victor continues to invent new switches, apply for patents, and serve as president of the 60-employee, family business.

“We’re very blessed with him,” Bill says. “He’s not your typical 96-year-old.”

Sector Microwave does it all — the company designs, manufactures, tests, and implements switches that go out into the atmosphere and bring back vital information from space missions, and it’s all done from its Deer Park facility.

“We’re very proud that we’re on Long Island and do it all here,” Bill says. “People don’t know that this type of manufacturing takes place on Long Island, and it’s neat that we’re a critical part of the space missions.”

Of course, there is pressure involved to get everything right. But Bill says that they have a great track record and are well trusted in the industry. All the switches are rigorously tested before heading out into space.

“It’s very exciting when we make the switches,” Bill says. “They’re tested to extreme environmental conditions for cold temperatures, hot temperatures, and vibrations because they have to survive the trip. They’re very rugged switches.”

Sector Microwave’s switches are still collecting data out in space with the Perseverance Mars Rover, which landed on Feb. 18. The company has had switches on all five Mars Rover missions.

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