NASA's next Mars rover will launch in 2020, and it's being built before our eyes - here's what the robot's birth has looked like
- NASA is building a nuclear-powered rover to send to Mars. For now, it's called Mars 2020.
- The rover will search for signs of ancient microbial alien life, collect and stash rock samples, and test out technology that could pave the way for humans to walk the Martian surface one day.
- Mars 2020 is set to launch in July 2020 and land in the red planet's Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.
- With the launch just a year away, the rover is taking shape before our eyes inside NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
- Here's what the birth of a Mars rover looks like.
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NASA's next Mars-bound robot is taking shape.With launch a year away, a team of engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are putting together the next vehicle, slated to land on the red planet. It's called Mars 2020 for now, though grade-school students will compete to give it a more catchy name in the fall.
The rover carries a suite of cutting-edge tools: There's a new navigation system to make landing on the red planet less risky, an instrument designed to produce oxygen from carbon dioxide, and tools to collect data that could help scientists better predict Martian weather.Together, all these developments could get us closer to putting human boots on Mars' harsh surface.
As the JPL team gets the rover ready, NASA is broadcasting their work via a webcam in the lab and releasing regular updates about the progress.Here is what the rover's construction looks like so far.
The Mars 2020 rover's design is based on that of Curiosity, which has been exploring the red planet since 2012. Curiosity discovered that Mars once had environments that could have supported microbial life. Mars 2020 will search for signs of that life.
Since NASA announced the start of the rover's assembly last year, the team has been fitting the pieces together step by step.
Then in March, engineers installed an instrument that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. If it works, it could solve a big problem facing future human explorers.
In April, Mars 2020 got an antenna that will enable it to communicate with Earth.
Later that month, technicians installed Mars 2020's heart: its motor.
Throughout the spring, helicopters tested out the rover's navigation system.
Then in May, two high-definition cameras were fit onto the rover's mast.
Last month, construction really started ramping up. In early June, the team attached the mast to the rover's body.
In mid-June, the rover got its wheels and two titanium legs.
The rover's robotic arm, which has five motors and five joints for optimal mobility, was installed on June 21.
The rover's impressive SuperCam tool can identify the mineral, chemical, and atomic composition of a target the size of a pencil point up to 20 feet away. It was installed on June 25.
In the coming weeks and months, the team will fit even more parts onto the rover, including a tool that will test out pieces of spacesuit material.
The rover is also slated to get sensors that will provide daily weather reports and collect data on wind, dust, and radiation, as well as an instrument that can analyze the chemistry of tiny targets to test for traces of ancient life.
Yet another tool still to be added will penetrate a part of Mars that instrument has ever probed before: deep underground.
The rover's sample-collection system, meanwhile, will carry 43 containers in which to store bits of rock or soil.
You can watch the rest of Mars 2020's birth unfold via NASA's live broadcast of the engineers at work.
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