In just a year's time, NASA will launch a new robotic rover mission to Mars. The mission, temporarily called "Mars 2020", will involve the collection and retrieval of rock and soil samples to Earth. This means there's gonna be quite a bit of heavy lifting involved. Luckily, a recent demonstration showed that the rover is up for the task.
The rover's arm and turret are some of its most important parts. They must work together to emulate the arm of a geologist that's examining and collecting samples. Recently, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Spacecraft Assembly Facility in Pasadena, California, NASA engineers instructed the rover's 88-pound arm to perform a bicep curl as it moved from a deployed to a stowed configuration.
“This was our first opportunity to watch the arm and turret move in concert with each other, making sure that everything worked as advertised — nothing blocking or otherwise hindering smooth operation of the system,” said Dave Levine, an integration engineer for Mars 2020.
“Standing there, watching the arm and turret go through their motions, you can’t help but marvel that the rover will be in space in less than a year from now and performing these exact movements on Mars in less than two.”
In its final configuration, the rover's arm will have five electrical motors and five joints. The turret will be equipped with cameras, life and chemical element detection instruments, a percussive drill, and a coring mechanism.
The mission's launch is planned for July 2020 and scheduled to land at Jezero Crater on Mars in February 2021. Although a future return trip to Mars to retrieve the rover's collected samples hasn't yet been put in motion, nor is it clear if it's feasible at this moment, NASA believes that sample collection from Mars merits much attention. NASA also says that many aspects of the upcoming Mars 2020 mission will shape the technology required for human missions on the Red Planet.
This will be NASA's seventh mission to touch down on Mars, joining the likes of Curiosity, InSight lander, Spirit, and Opportunity. In order to find a cool name as its predecessors, NASA has put out a call for K-12 students in US schools, offering them the chance to name the 2020 rover. This is somewhat of a tradition now. Before it was dubbed Curiosity, the previously-deployed plucky rover was known as the Mars Science Laboratory.