NASA's next Mars rover did a breakdance to prepare for Red Planet exploration.
In a new animation from Aug. 29 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab). "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 (opens in new tab). Make sure to get your name in by Sept. 30.
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