Mars 2020 rover flexes its arm ahead of 2020 launch
NASA's Mars 2020 rover got a bit of a workout recently as it flexed its mechanical muscles. Captured in a time-lapse video, the 7-ft (2.1 m) robotic arm with its 88-lb (40-kg) "hand" did a bit of curling as space agency engineers guided it from its deployed to its stowed configuration ahead of the unmanned explorer's launch to the Red Planet next year.
Dong a bit of lifting and bending may seem like a simple thing, but when it's a robotic arm that's one of the most vital pieces of equipment for a US$2.5-billion mission to collect samples of Mars for eventual return to Earth, the team wants things done right. With the chance to learn whether life once or may still exist under the Martian soil at stake, making sure the arm works properly and is secured firmly for flight becomes a very high priority.
The Mars 2020 rover arm is an improved version of the one used by the Curiosity rover. It has five degrees of freedom thanks to a set of rotary actuator motors in the shoulder azimuth, shoulder elevation, elbow, wrist, and turret joints.
It's also fitted with a turret-like hand that is equipped with high-definition cameras, the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) science instrument, and the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL).
Another key part of the hand is a percussive drill and coring mechanism for boring into rock to recover samples that have been protected from the harsh Martian environment for millennia. These samples will be analyzed by the rover's internal laboratory, but many will be transferred by the Sample Caching System to special containers that will be deposited on the Martian surface for recovery by a later unmanned mission for return to Earth.
"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," says Dave Levine, 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."
The time-lapse video below shows the rover's arm moving from deployed to stowed position.