Two Rovers to Roll on Mars Again: Curiosity and Mars 2020 (Study)

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.

The Missions

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.

The Instruments

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

storage system.

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.

The Wheels

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

sand.

The Brains

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.

The Touchdown

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

parachute.

The People to Come

NASA’s Artemis

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

ice.

For extra details about Curiosity and Mars 2020, go to:

https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/residence/

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/

Information Media Contact

Andrew Good

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

818-393-2433

[email protected]

Alana Johnson

NASA Headquarters, Washington

202-358-1501

[email protected]

2019-242

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