NASA installs Mars rover's sampling arm, plans for July launch
NASA is continuing to prepare its freshly named Mars 2020 rover for launch later this year, with the team successfully attaching the main sampling components that will be used to collect Martian rock and dust after touchdown. There are still a few finishing touches to be added to Perseverance ahead of lift-off, but the agency insists that the coronavirus pandemic hasn't impacted its plans and preparations are continuing as normal.
Perseverance is a 2,300-lb (1,043-kg) rover that will carry some of NASA's loftiest ambitions to Mars. It will land in the planet's Jezero Crater, where it will use its onboard instruments to hunt for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet's climate, and gather samples to be studied back on Earth. All going to plan, these will be humanity's first samples from another planet.
Key to this final objective is the Sample Handling Arm. This consists of a pair of components that will be used to collect, safeguard and return those dust and rock samples to scientists back home: the Bit Carousel and the Adaptive Caching Assembly.
The Bit Carousel consists of nine drill bits that the rover will use to burrow into the surface, pulling the samples and passing them into belly of the rover for analysis by the Adaptive Caching system. This system features seven motors and a grand total of 3,000 parts, and is responsible for storing and assessing samples of rock and dust. Installation of both the Adaptive Caching system and Bit Carousel was completed in early March, with testing of the electrical wiring completed soon after.
"With the addition of the Adaptive Caching Assembly and Bit Carousel, the heart of our sample collection system is now on board the rover," says Matt Wallace, deputy project manager of the Mars 2020 mission at JPL. "Our final but most crucial elements to install will be the sample tubes that will contain the first samples that will be brought from another planet back to Earth for analysis. We will keep these pristine until we integrate them in a couple of months."
The launch window for the Perseverance rover runs from July 17 to August 5. The agency says, at least at present, these plans have not been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Whichever day it does end up launching within that window, it is expected to touch down on Mars on February 18, 2021.