NASA's Mars 2020 rover stands up for the first time
Coaxed carefully by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's Mars 2020 has taken its full weight on its wheels and legs for the first time. The stand-up exercise was part of several weeks of tests and evaluations of the unmanned, nuclear-powered explorer's power, mobility, and support systems and subsystems, as well as its robotic arms and instruments.
As well as assembling the various components of the rover, the tests also saw NASA technicians determine how well they can handle the near-vacuum and freezing temperatures of the Red Planet.
The six wheels that the rover is currently sitting on are temporary engineering versions that will be replaced by flight models before the Mars 2020 spacecraft is finally assembled and stacked on its launcher. Each 20.7-inch (52.5 cm) wheel is a more advanced version of those installed on the Curiosity rover, which have suffered from an unexpected amount of wear and tear since landing on Mars in 2012.
Like Curiosity, the Mars 2020 rover wheels are made of aluminum, but they are thicker, more solid, narrower, and wider with stronger cleats or grousers. Each wheel is independently powered with 48 cleats for better traction. Meanwhile, the front and rear wheels have individual steering motors and can turn a full 360°.
The wheels are installed on a rocker-bogie suspension attached to black titanium legs in a configuration similar to that used on Curiosity. This allows the rover to handle a 45-degree incline in any direction while traveling at 499 ft/h (152 m/h).
The Mars 2020 mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020.
"After years of design, analysis, and testing, it is fantastic to see the rover on her wheels for the first time," says Ben Riggs, a mechanical systems engineer on Mars 2020. "The whole team looks forward to seeing her in the same configuration on Mars in the not too distant future."
The time-lapse video below shows the Mars 2020 rover standing on its wheels.