NASA is working hard on its new Mars rover. What was once a chunk of metal and wires is now looking like an actual rover with brand new wheels.
In the image above, you can see engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, installing the starboard legs and wheels (also known as the mobility suspension) on the Mars 2020 rover.
The wheels are made of aluminum with 48 cleats machined onto their surface. Those metal projections will give the vehicle the traction it needs to be able to drive on both sandy and rough, rocky surfaces.
“Now that’s a Mars rover,” said David Gruel, the Mars 2020 assembly, test, and launch operations manager 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.”
The Mars 2020 rover will be the advanced version of its predecessor, the Curiosity rover.
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The new wheels are larger than those of some of NASA’s past rovers.
While all six wheels have motors, the front and rear ones have steering motors, therefore enabling the rover to make a full 360-degree turn in place. In addition, the suspension system can withstand tilts up to 45 degrees in any direction. So the rover can drive on pretty large rocks without tipping over.
But these wheels won’t be touching the surface of Mars at all. Engineers are using the current wheels for testing only. But sometime next year they’ll swap out the wheels for a flight-ready model.
Over the next few weeks, engineers plan to install the vehicle’s robotic arm, the mast-mounted SuperCam instrument and the Sample Caching System, which includes 17 separate motors and will collect samples of Martian rock and soil. A future mission will return the samples back to Earth.
The Mars 2020 mission will be ready to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July of 2020. It will land at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.