NASA's next Mars rover did a breakdance to prepare for Red Planet exploration.
In a new animation from Aug. 29, the Mars 2020 rover can be seen going for a spin — literally. The spacecraft was put on a spinning table in a "clean room,"a workspace designed to prevent contamination, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. On the table, the rover spun around in circles at a rate of about one revolution per minute.
"The spin table process is similar to how a gas station would balance a new tire before putting it on your car," Lemil Cordero, a Mars 2020 mass properties engineer at JPL, said in a statement. "We rotate the rover back and forth and look for asymmetries in its mass distribution. Then, similar to your gas station putting small weights on the tire's rim to bring it into balance, we'll put small balance masses on the rover in specific locations to get its center of gravity exactly where we want it."
Engineers need to know the rover's center of gravity to help prepare it for its long journey to the Red Planet, which is scheduled to take place next year. This will be especially important for the tricky entry, descent and landing phases. Mars 2020 uses a "skycrane" to lower the rover to the surface during the last stages of landing. This technology and maneuver is so new to engineering that NASA's Curiosity rover's descent, which used this technology, in 2012 was referred to as "seven minutes of terror."
To better balance the new rover, engineers added nine tungsten weights measuring a total of 44 pounds (20 kilograms) following the spin test. The rover will spin once more at a NASA facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida next spring. Mars 2020 is expected to launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral and land at Jezero Crater on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. If all goes according to plan, this rover will be the first to retarget its touchdown location as it lands.
If you'd like to send your name to Mars with the spacecraft, NASA has a space open for you. Make sure to get your name in by Sept. 30.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace