Curiosity will not be NASA’s solely lively Mars rover for a lot
longer. Subsequent summer time, Mars 2020 can be headed for the Pink Planet. Whereas the
latest rover borrows from Curiosity’s design, they don’t seem to be twins: Constructed and
managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, every has its
personal function within the ongoing exploration of Mars and the seek for historical life.
This is a better have a look at what units the siblings aside.
Touchdown in 2004 to “observe the water,” the dual
rovers Spirit and Alternative found proof that the planet as soon as hosted working
water earlier than turning into a frozen desert. However when did this occur and why?
NASA launched the supersized Curiosity rover to be taught extra.
Since touchdown in 2012, Curiosity has been roaming Gale Crater, which, it found,
contained a lake billions of years in the past and an
atmosphere that might have supported microbial life. The rover continues to be
trying to find clues associated to this atmosphere because it ascends the 3-mile-tall
(5-kilometer-tall) Mount Sharp, which sits inside Gale Crater and was partially
shaped by water.
Some 3,760 miles (6,050 kilometers) away, Mars 2020 will
additionally discover a panorama formed by water: Jezero Crater, the location of an historical
delta. However 2020 will take the following scientific step: It would search for precise
indicators of previous life, or biosignatures, capturing samples of rocks and soil that
could possibly be retrieved by future missions and returned to Earth for in-depth research.
Mars 2020’s chassis, or physique, is about 5 inches longer
than Curiosity’s. It is also heavier, checking in at 2,260 kilos (1,025
kilograms), in contrast with Curiosity’s 1,982 kilos (899 kilograms). The burden distinction
has to do with the instruments every carries.
Begin with the robotic arms: Curiosity’s extends 7 ft (2.2
meters) and wields a rotating 65-pound (30-kilogram) turret geared up with a scientific
digital camera, chemical analyzer and drill. The roving science lab pulverizes rock
samples and pours the powder into its chassis, the place two laboratories can
decide the rocks’ chemical and mineral make-up.
Mars 2020’s arm has the identical attain as Curiosity’s, however its
turret weighs extra – 99 kilos (45 kilograms) – as a result of it carries bigger
devices and a bigger drill for coring. The drill will minimize intact rock cores,
relatively than pulverizing them, and so they’ll be positioned in pattern tubes through a fancy
The Eyes and Ears
All of NASA’s Mars missions have allowed the general public to journey
alongside as scientists and engineers discover the planet. Curiosity has been doing that
with 17 cameras on its Mast, or head, and physique; 4
of them are coloration cameras.
Mars 2020 has 23 cameras, most of them
coloration. The brand new rover additionally consists of “ears” – two microphones to
seize not solely the primary sounds of a Mars touchdown, but additionally Martian wind and
the rover’s chemical-analyzing laser zaps.
Mastcam-Z, an improved model of Curiosity’s Mast Digicam, has
a zoom functionality and can take high-definition video and panoramas.
Curiosity has ready Mars 2020’s group for
“off-roading” on the Pink Planet. When holes started showing within the
veteran rover’s aluminum wheels, engineers realized that sharp rocks cemented
on the Martian floor exert extra stress on the wheels than anticipated. Cautious drive planning, alongside
with a software program improve, will preserve them in form for
the remainder of Curiosity’s journey up Mount Sharp.
Whereas Mars 2020’s wheels
are made out of the identical supplies, they’re barely greater and narrower, with
skins which are virtually a millimeter thicker. As an alternative of Curiosity’s chevron-pattern
treads, or grousers, Mars 2020 has straighter ones and twice as many per
wheel (48 versus 24). In depth testing in JPL’s Mars Yard has proven these
treads higher stand up to the stress from sharp rocks however work simply as effectively on
Mars rovers do not drive themselves. Groups of scientists and engineers
beam meticulously programmed job lists to them at the start of every Mars day,
or sol. Rover drivers on Earth then look ahead to the car to report again earlier than
planning the following drive. The extra a rover can do by itself, the extra time
drivers must program new instructions.
After Curiosity landed, it took a mean of 19 hours for
the rover’s group to research a day’s knowledge, construct and take a look at instructions, then ship
these instructions again to the rover. Years of honing operations shrunk the time it
takes to develop every day’s plan to seven hours, and a restricted diploma of
auto-navigation has enabled Curiosity to take some cautious steps by itself.
However Mars 2020 has much more self-driving smarts, permitting it
to calculate a path 5 instances quicker than Curiosity can. That self-driving
can be key to condensing the period of time it takes for the 2020 group to plan
every day’s operations. The brand new mission intends to finally condense every day
operations to simply 5 hours. The quicker tempo will enable it to cowl extra
floor and collect extra samples over the course of its prime mission. Mars 2020
will not transfer quicker than its older sibling, however extra
automation implies that it could probably drive farther and accumulate extra science
with out having to attend for engineers again on Earth.
Curiosity reworked Mars
landings with the seemingly radical “sky
crane maneuver.” Mars 2020 will depend on the
similar course of but additionally options an essential new know-how: Terrain Relative
Navigation. An onboard laptop matches floor photographs
from a digital camera to a map to maintain the spacecraft heading in the right direction. In the meantime, the Vary
Set off lets the rover get miles nearer to an excellent website earlier than firing a
The People to Come
program goals to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, making ready for future
exploration of Mars. Serving to pave the best way for people, Curiosity carries devices
that research the Martian atmosphere, like floor radiation and climate.
In addition to learning the climate, Mars 2020 will carry
spacesuit samples, permitting scientists to review how they degrade. An oxygen
generator will take a look at know-how for astronauts to make their very own rocket gas
from the Martian environment. A subsurface
radar just like the one on the rover may sometime be used to seek out buried water
For extra details about Curiosity and Mars 2020, go to:
Information Media Contact
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
NASA Headquarters, Washington
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