NASA's still-unnamed 2020 Mars rover has been subjected to a variety of tests in preparation for its launch to the Red Planet next year.
In a new blog post, the U.S. space agency detailed all the intense and thorough process to make sure that the robotic explorer will survive the harsh environment of Earth's next-door neighbor.
The rover is expected to arrive in Mars in February 2021 and land in the Jezero Crater where it will begin its mission to search for signs of microbial life in ancient Mars.
Preparation For Landing
According to NASA, the Mars 2020 rover has been practicing and nailing every step of its entry and descent to the surface of the Red Planet at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Spacecraft Assembly Facility in Pasadena, California.
The robotic explorer has not left Earth yet; it is scheduled for launch in July 2020. However, it has been performing simulated touchdown since January.
"We first landed on Jezero Crater on Jan. 23rd," revealed Heather Bottom, a system engineer working behind the Mars 2020 mission. "And the rover successfully landed again on Mars two days later."
The exercise called Systems Test 1, or ST1, was the first time for the engineering team to test-drive the major components of the rover and make sure that it will perform exactly as expected when the time comes for it to land. Aside from the fact that there is always a risk of failure upon entry and descent, the instruments that will be used in the upcoming mission is different from its predecessor.
Moreover, landing in Jezero Crater would be a challenge. The site, which is an impact crater, has been of interest to scientists because it offers a geologically rich terrain that might uncover secrets about ancient Mars.
"Nothing was visibly moving, but underneath the outer structure, there were flight computers swapping sides, radios sending and receiving transmissions, fuel valves moving in and out, subsystems being energized and later turned off, and electrical signals being sent to nonexistent pyrotechnic devices," said Bottom about the trial.
Is There Life On Mars?
The Mars 2020 rover will launch sometime between July 17 and Aug. 5, 2020. Its primary goal is to analyze and collect soil and rock samples to answer key questions about the potential of life, both in the past and in the future, on the Red Planet.
Part of the mission of the rover is to gather knowledge and demonstrate technologies that can be useful for future manned expeditions. This includes perfecting landing, characterizing the planet's climate and geology, testing for methods to produce oxygen, and studying factors that might affect astronauts who will venture and explore Mars.