NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Is Coming Together In A Hurry

Mars 2020 rover assembly

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover doesn’t look like a bunch of cold steel and wires anymore. Last week, JPL engineers were busy in the cleanest warehouse you’ll ever see. They spent the day installing the rover’s six wheels. Here’s what a busy day inside a JPL warehouse looks like.

Mars 2020 getting its wheels last week. Credit: NASA/JPL

Those set of wheels are probably the most engineered set you’ll ever see. Each one comes with its own motor. The two front and two rear wheels also come equipped with steering motors. That lets the Mars 2020 rover turn a full 360 degrees in place. 48 grousers, or cleats, will keep the rover from sliding around any terrain Mars’ surface can throw at it. Soft sand or hard rocks won’t be a problem for the rover.

This rover can handle steep inclines too, but rover drivers are going to keep any tilt limited to 30 degrees. But if something unexpected was to happen, the Mars 2020 rover can handle 45 degrees of tilt without tipping over.

“Now that’s a Mars rover,” said David Gruel, the Mars 2020 assembly, test, and launch operations manager at JPL. “With the suspension on, not only does it look like a rover, but we have almost all our big-ticket items for integration in our rearview mirror – if our rover had one.”

The rest of the Mars 2020 rover will quickly snap into place over the next few weeks. The mast-mounted SuperCam instrument and the Sample Caching System are next up for JPL engineers to install.

Mars 2020 will be powered by a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (or MMRTG). It’s what keeps Mark Watney toasty in The Martian. What that means for Mars 2020 is a primary mission that lasts for at least one Mars Year (close to 700 Earth days). Mars 2020 won’t have the longevity of the Opportunity mission, but also won’t be done in by a dust storm.

The Mars 2020 rover will begin its journey to Mars next July from Florida’s Space Coast and is expected to arrive at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

Fun fact: human explorers will one day catch up with the Mars 2020 rover. The Sample Caching System I mentioned above is designed to gather samples that will one day be returned to Earth.

42 sample tubes will be filled with rock and soil samples and then stored in the rover’s belly until the team decides on a place to drop them. The first human explorers of Mars will have these coordinates and can retrieve them and bring them back home.

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