NASA’s Mars 2020 rover takes its first steps in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, auto-navigating obstacles, turning in place and demonstrating its hazard-avoidance ability. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
With launch just seven months away, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passed its first driving test on 17 December, demonstrating the six-wheel nuclear-powered spacecraft can auto-navigate around obstacles, climb over relatively large obstructions and manoeuvre as required.
“Mars 2020 has earned its driver’s license,” said Rich Rieber, the lead mobility systems engineer for the Mars 2020 project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “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.”
The new rover is scheduled for launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Florida on 17 July. If all goes well, the spacecraft will be lowered from a rocket-powered “sky crane” to the floor of Jezero Crater on 18 February 2021. Once on the surface, Mars 2020 will search for evidence of past microbial life, study the planet’s climate and geology and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth on ...