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NASA's New Rover Gets Shiny New Set Of Wheels And Legs

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On June 13, NASA engineers attached starboard legs and wheels on the Mars 2020 rover. The vehicle, which will search for evidence of habitable conditions and microbial life in Mars' ancient past, will be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida next summer.   ( NASA/JPL-Caltech )

The Mars 2020 rover is almost ready for launch. At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, NASA engineers installed the future explorer's mobility suspension.

A photo recently released by the space agency on Friday, June 21, showed the next Mars rover receiving its starboard legs and wheels.

"Now that's a Mars rover," stated David Gruel, the assembly, test, and launch operations manager for Mars 2020 at JPL. "With the suspension on, not only does it look like a rover, but we have almost all our big-ticket items for integration in our rearview mirror — if our rover had one."

NASA will install the Mars 2020 rover's robotic arm in the next couple of weeks.

Mars 2020 Rover Receives Legs And Wheels

According to NASA, the legs (the black tubing above the wheels in the photo) are made of titanium. They were manufactured with the same techniques used in high-end bicycles.

The rover's six wheels, meanwhile, are made of aluminum. Each measures about 20.7 inches in diameter and features 48 grousers on the surface to provide traction in soft sand and hard rocks. Every wheel has its own motors, but the two front and two rear wheels have individual steering to enable the rover to turn 365 degrees in place.

The Mars 2020 rover also has a suspension system called a "rocker-bogie" that will enable it to maintain even weight on each wheel and prevent it from toppling over when driving over uneven terrain. According to NASA, the vehicle can withstand a 45-degree tilt in any direction, although, it likely will not be needed because rover drivers avoid terrains that would cause more than a 30-degree tilt.

The system will also allow the rover to roll over rocks and drive through depressions the size of their wheels with no problem.

Prepping For Mars

NASA engineers have been hard at work preparing the Mars 2020 rover for its launch by summer next year. Last month, the team installed two high-definition cameras to the vehicle. Earlier this year, the space agency also started testing the technology that will help the Mars 2020 spacecraft land safely on the complex terrain of Jezero Crater.

The Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to launch in July 2020 onboard the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V-541. The rover is tasked to look for signs of past habitable conditions as well as evidence of past microbial life on the Red Planet. It will also collect samples of Martian rocks and soil to be retrieved by a future mission.

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