In a new video released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the 2020 rover is seen rolling for the very first time. The short-distance drive test is a significant milestone, even if the rover doesn’t exactly break any speed records during its first crawl.
“Mars 2020 has earned its driver’s license,” lead mobility systems engineer for Mars 2020 Rich Rieber said in a statement. “The test unambiguously proved that the rover can operate under its own weight and demonstrated many of the autonomous-navigation functions for the first time. This is a major milestone for Mars 2020.”
“A rover needs to rove, and Mars 2020 did that yesterday,” John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager, added. “We can’t wait to put some red Martian dirt under its wheels.”
Mars 2020 is a lot quicker on its feet than NASA’s previous rovers in terms of decision-making and navigation. Its cameras and image-processing computer are also far more sophisticated and higher-resolution.
During the test, which lasted for over 10 hours, NASA engineers noticed no problems, and the six-wheeled rover successfully performed all the required tasks. Tests of its newfangled autonomous navigation system went well, according to NASA, and the vehicle functioned the way it was supposed to under its own weight – its Earth weight, that is. Once on Mars this 2,314-pound (1,050-kilogram) machine will be considerably lighter, as the gravity on Mars is 38 per cent of what it is on Earth.
Thanks to the tech upgrade, Mars 2020 will be able to move an average of 200 meters (650 feet) per Martian day — impressive considering the previous single-day record, set by NASA’s Opportunity rover, was 214 meters (702 feet), according to JPL.
Once on Mars, the rover will explore a former lake bed, where it will search for signs of prior life on Mars. It’ll also study the planet’s climate and geology and collect and deposit surface samples for a future mission to collect. And excitingly, the rover will have a partner: the Mars Helicopter Scout. So get excited – this is going to be another very cool mission to the Red Planet.