NASA is even letting you watch live as its engineers assemble the 2020 Mars Rover

Preparations are well underway for NASA’s 2020 Mars mission. Spearheading it is the 2020 Mars rover, a machine that picks up where Curiosity left off but is largely improved and has more and tech. In fact, it’s NASA’s most sophisticated rover to date, but its mission coordinates require it to be the perfect example of a multi-tasking machine. At this point, you might or might not know that Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020, and it’s expected to land on Mars at the Jezero Crater sometime on February 18, 2021.

Tell me more about the 2020 Mars rover

NASA built the 2020 Mars rover on the same platform that underpins Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover - which in turn, was an evolution of NASA’s Opportunity and Spirit rovers launched in 2003, so we expect more or less the same capabilities in terms of lifespan and dealing with rough terrain. Just to look at the bigger picture, Curiosity had six wheels, each powered by its own hub motor, while the two wheels in front and in the back are fitted with individual steering motors that allow the rover to turn a full 360 degrees on the spot.

The four steering motors also allow it to swerve and curve. Don't get too excited about the number of motors, because Curiosity was not built for speed - in fact, its top speed is around 1.5 inches per seconds (4 centimeters per second), which we expect to be carried over to 2020 Mars.

The wheels are works of art by themselves. Each wheel is made of aluminum and measures 20.7 inches (52.5 cm) in diameter. Moreover, they’re all fitted with 48 grousers or cleats that have been machined into the surface for extra grip on rough terrain. Combined with the titanium legs that are formed through the same process as the frames on high-end bicycles, they form the so-called rocker-bogie or a suspension system. The setup makes sure of two things: that a constant weight is maintained on each wheel for better stability and that the rover can climb over rocks when it really needs to.

NASA's 2020 Mars Rover Gets Its Wheels And They Are Insanely Cool
- image 847215

Also carried over from Curiosity to 2020 Mars is the size. The two rovers have identical dimensions, namely 10 feet length, 9 feet width, and 7 feet height. 2020 Mars, however, weighs more - while Curiosity tipped the scales at 2,000 (90 kilos), 2020 Mars has a weight of 2,314 pounds (1,050 kilos).

NASA says it developed both Curiosity and 2020 Mars by drawing inspiration from nature, with designers and engineers aiming for a creature-like structure that would be able to explore various patches of terrain and communicate with command center. In this sense, 2020 Mars has a body which protects its vital systems, a handful of brains aka super-powerful computers, eyes and ears thanks to cameras and sensors as well as antennas and arms that can extend to collect rock samples, for example.

NASA's 2020 Mars Rover Gets Its Wheels And They Are Insanely Cool
- image 847220

A pivotal element in the rover’s design is the mast, which is 7 feet long (2.2 meters) and acts as a high perch for the SuperCam, Mastcam-Z, Navcams, and other measuring instruments. During the rover’s descent towards Mars, the mast will be safely positioned flat on the rover’s deck. Once 2020 Mars is up and running on the Martial soil, it will go up to support all the gear we mentioned earlier.

2020 Mars Rover specifications
Length 10 feet (3 meters)
Width 9 feet (2.7 meters)
Height 7 feet (2.2 meters)
Weight 2,314 pounds (1,050 kilos)
Wheels 6
Wheel size 20.7 inches (52.6 centimeters)
Number of cleats per wheel 48
Electric motors 6, one for each wheel
Individual steering motors 4
Turning ability 360 degrees in place
Maximum tilt without tipping over 45 degrees
What do you think?
Show Comments