NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will have to operate on its own in a harsh environment, hundred of millions of miles from the nearest mechanic. But for now, it’s still in development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab – and every milestone is an important one. The Mars 2020 rover has reached a critical milestone in its design and development. After years of design, analysis, and testing, the rover is on its wheels for the first time. The titanium legs of the rover are the black tubes that stick out the side.It’s scheduled to launch on a mission to the red planet next year.
The rover carried its full weight on its legs and wheels at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.This stand-up test is one of many the rover is undergoing, including testing its nuclear-powered engine, its ability to move its wheels, its sensor arrays and navigation systems.
The six-wheeled robotic exploration platform is readying for its scheduled July 2020 launch, which will see it sent to the Red Planet to carry on and augment the mission of the Mars Curiosity rover.
“After years of design, analysis and testing, it is fantastic to see the rover on her wheels for the first time,” said Ben Riggs, a mechanical systems engineer working on Mars 2020 at JPL. “The whole team looks forward to seeing her in the same configuration on Mars in the not too distant future.”
The rover’s legs (the black tubing visible above the wheels) are composed of titanium, while the wheels are made of aluminum. Measuring 20.7 inches (52.5 centimeters) in diameter and machined with traction-providing cleats, or grousers, the wheels are engineering models that will be replaced with flight models next year. Every wheel has its own motor. The two front and two rear wheels also have individual steering motors that enable the vehicle to turn a full 360 degrees in place.
When driving over uneven terrain, the rover’s “rocker-bogie” suspension system – called that because of its multiple pivot points and struts – maintains a relatively constant weight on each wheel for stability. Rover drivers avoid terrain that would cause the vehicle to tilt more than 30 degrees, but even so, the rover can handle a 45-degree tilt in any direction without tipping over. It can also roll over obstacles and through depressions the size of its wheels.
The Mars 2020 rover was photographed in the Simulator Building at JPL, where it underwent weeks of testing, including an extensive evaluation of how its instruments, systems and subsystems operate in the frigid, near-vacuum environment it will face on Mars.
JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for NASA. The rover will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in July 2020 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management.