It's amazing what a set of wheels can do. What was once a vague piece of metal, wires and circuit boards is now finally starting to look like a real rover.
We are now just over a year from the launch of the Mars Mission 2020, which will cause the new NASA rover to reach the Red Planet on February 18, 2021. Once in the Jezero Crater, the rover will look for signs of habitability and previous evidence of the microbial life of the past, collecting rock samples and surfaces and making some bases for a human mission on Mars, including an oxygen production test.
The launch window for Mars 2020 from Cape Canaveral is between July 17 to August 5, 2020. This is not too long from now on and hence the rover is really starting to take shape. A major landmark occurred on June 13 when engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Installed the vehicle's six-wheel suspension system, as NASA reported in a press release.
NASA's Mars Rover to Be Seriously Bad
If all goes according to plan, NASA will launch its next Martian rover in July 2020. The robotic probe is still under construction, but the first signs are that the next-generation rover will be equipped with an impressive array of high-tech devices .
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"Now it's a Mars rover," said David Gruel, operations manager for assembling, testing and launching Mars 2020 at JPL at launch. "With the suspension on, it not only looks like a rover, but we also have almost all of our more expensive items for integration into our rearview mirror – if our rover had one."
In fact, the preparations for the mission are now moving fast. In the coming weeks, engineers hope to install the rover's robotic arms, its mast-mounted camera, and the Sample Caching System (SCS), the latter containing 17 separate engines.
The SCS is designed to collect stones and dirt and place the samples in sealed containers that will be thrown to the surface. A future mission would retrieve the samples and deliver them to Earth for analysis.
The six wheels that were installed on June 13, it is important to note, are temporary substitutes for the real thing. The engineers will trade them for the flight versions sometime next year.
The aluminum wheels of the rover measure 52.5 cm in diameter. Each has its own engine (six-wheel drive, baby!) And 48 boot-shaped boots, or galoshes, machined on the surface, which will provide excellent traction, whether the rover is running on sandy terrain or uneven rocks.
The two front wheels and the two rear wheels have their own steering motors, which will allow the rover to rotate 360 degrees while in place.
The tube-shaped legs that support the wheels are built in titanium and are similar to high-quality bicycle structures in how they are manufactured, according to NASA. The suspension system of the vehicle is known as a "rocker-bogie" system, with several points of articulation and struts.
When on uneven ground, this setting will allow the vehicle to maintain similar weights on each wheel to minimize tipping and keep the rover stable.
During the mission, NASA will not allow the rover to venture into terrain with more than 30 degrees of slope. That said, the Mars 2020 rover was designed to handle a 45 degree tilt in any direction without tipping over, which is pretty amazing – that's half a 90 degree angle!
Curiosity: You can send your name to the Red Planet with the Mars 2020 mission. I already have my boarding pass (above) and you can get yours here.