The March 2020 rover assembled and tested before launching next year


From NASA next mission on Mars Gather slowly in a "clean room" in California. Technicians from the agency's reaction propulsion laboratory have assembled the capsule that will keep the March 2020 rover safe for its wild run on the surface of the red planet.

After leaving Earth next summer, Mars 2020 will spend about seven months flying to the Red Planet before a spectacular entry to destination, including a rehearsal of the famous sequence "7 minutes of terror" This brought the Rios Curiosity robot to the surface of the planet in 2012. (The March 2020 rover and Curiosity have similar frames, although they carry different instruments.) It is therefore necessary to secure all the parts in the input capsule of March 2020, according to a process called "stacking"

"Stacking is an important step in the development of the mission because, despite the quality of our computer models, we still need to assemble it to show that the bolt holes align and that everything "Nest," David Gruel, head of assembly, testing and launch operations for March 2020 at JPL, said in a statement. "It's a great feeling for the whole project when we see the pile sitting waiting for the rest of the trip, which will eventually lead to a launch pad at Cape Canaveral in July of next year. . "

Related: Why we can not rely on robots to find life on Mars

The stacking process includes both the true rover and a surrogate rover; the latter is tested to make sure everything is properly adjusted before using the real flight equipment.

In the last batch of checks, the technicians placed the rocket-propelled descent platform over the replacement rover. After checking that the holes in the stage and the surrogate were aligned, they carried out a thorough check before lowering theback cover"- a part of what protects the rover when it enters the Martian atmosphere – and checks the alignment.

The team then tested the fit of a parachute nose cone. This important piece will protect the parachute while the March 2020 shell is spreading in the atmosphere; Once the entry is complete, Mars 2020 can deploy the parachute safely to slow down its descent.

The March 2020 team completed the current stacking tests on April 3. Then, the spacecraft was sent to the JPL environmental test facility for acoustic tests, intended to simulate the sound waves that they will encounter during launch. Once these tests are complete, the next step is to check for loose bolts or fastening points. If all goes well, the battery will then spend a week inside a thermal vacuum chamber that simulates the space environment, to ensure its strength during its cruise to Mars.

Even after the conclusion of the thermal tests, the tests are not nearly finished. The stacked spacecraft will be returned to its place of assembly for unstacking, then further testing and work. "Nothing is static with this mission," Gruel said. "Until Atlas rocket retaining bolts go wild and our rover heads for Mars in July 2020, something is being assembled, tested or modified."

It's a lot of work, but NASA has an ambitious mission that March 2020 must fill. The rover will look for signs of ancient Martian life, thus taking a step forward from Curiosity's successful scientific discoveries. (Curiosity has found ample evidence of potential livabilitysuch as water, organic molecules and methane, but it is not designed to search for life itself.) March 2020 will also lay the groundwork for future robots by caching samples in tubes mission will recover for a better analysis on Earth.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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