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Jason DavisAugust 22, 2019

Mars 2020 Rover almost Assembled

NASA last week said that major assembly of the Mars 2020 rover is complete, after technicians installed the carousel that holds the tools that will be used to collect samples for future return to Earth. The rover, which is being assembled and tested at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (you can watch live video from the Spacecraft Assembly Facility here), already has its wheels, mast, and science instruments installed. The helicopter drone has also been attached. Launch remains on track for the start of a window that lasts from 17 July to 5 August 2020.

Mars 2020's bit carousel sits on the front of the rover, and has a wheel that rotates 9 tools and drill bits into position for the rover's robotic arm to grab with its drill. The carousel collection contains 2 abrasion tools for exposing unweathered rock surfaces, 6 drill bits for coring, and 1 bit for soft regolith. 

Mars 2020 Bit Carousel Installation

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars 2020 Bit Carousel Installation
The bit carousel, which lies at the heart of Sample Caching System of NASA's Mars 2020 mission, is attached to the front end of the rover in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on 5 August 2019.

Next to the carousel sits storage for 43 empty sample collection tubes. When flight controllers command Mars 2020 to collect a sample, a smaller robotic arm moves an empty sample container into position for the big arm to grab along with a drill bit. After sample collection, the small arm takes the filled container and moves it to inspection and sealing stations.

Mars 2020 Rover Does Bicep Curls

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars 2020 Rover Does Bicep Curls
This GIF was created from a time-lapse video taken 19 July 2019 in the clean room of NASA JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility. It shows the rover's 2.1-meter-long arm maneuvering its 40-kilogram sensor-laden turret as it moves from a deployed to a stowed configuration.

The bit carousel was one of Mars 2020's last major pieces to be installed. In late July, technicians tested and calibrated the rover's front-facing cameras, including 2 Navcams, 4 Hazcams, SuperCam and the 2 Mastcam-Z cameras. To do this, they had the rover image grids of dots from between 1 and 40 meters away. The procedure will soon be repeated for the rear cameras. 

Mars 2020 Rover Front Camera Calibration

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars 2020 Rover Front Camera Calibration
Engineers test cameras on the top of the Mars 2020 rover’s mast and front chassis in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on 23 July 2019.

Testing will continue throughout the rest of the year, until Mars 2020 ships in December to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There, it will get bundled up for launch. The cruise stage that will house the rover all the way to Mars underwent thermal vacuum and acoustic testing in May. 

In Florida, Mars 2020 will receive its nuclear power source, the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermal Generator (MMRTG) that will supply the spacecraft with 110 watts of electricity and keep it warm on Mars. The MMRTG is currently being fueled with plutonium-238 at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory.

Mars 2020 Rover Open Belly

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars 2020 Rover Open Belly
This image taken on 1 June 2019 shows the exposed belly of the Mars 2020 rover, inverted to allow technicians easier access. The front of the rover is on the left. The wiring being inspected is directly above MOXIE. In the foreground, just to the left of center and distinctive because of the relative lack of wiring, is the body unit for SuperCam. To the far left, covered by a red-colored shield, is the bay for the Adaptive Caching Assembly (ACA).

Read more: Mars 2020, Mars

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Jason Davis

Digital Editor for The Planetary Society
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