NASA has been working on an advanced successor to the Martian Curiosity rover for quite some time. Dubbed the Mars 2020 rover, the upgraded SUV-sized autonomous rover will launch into space next Summer so that it can explore the red planet’s surface in more detail than any other similar mission before it.
Mars 2020 has been coming together nicely, with one of the more recent updates being that the rover’s fully autonomous scouting helicopter had been attached to the main body. But even more recently, the Mars 2020 mission surpassed a significant milestone after engineers set the assembled machine down and its six legs and wheels supported its full weight for the very first time.
"After years of design, analysis and testing, it is fantastic to see the rover on her wheels for the first time," recounted JPL mechanical systems engineer Ben Riggs. "The whole team looks forward to seeing her in the same configuration on Mars in the not too distant future."
The Mars 2020 rover’s legs are constructed of blackened titanium, while the wheels are comprised of aluminum, just like those currently sported by the Curiosity rover. Both metals feature lightweight and stout qualities that are right for the job, although NASA is already experimenting with alternatives that won’t break down as quickly.
Mars 2020 will arrive at Mars’ Jezero Crater in February 2021 where it will begin its preliminary analysis of the Martian surface with its upgraded observation technology. The onboard helicopter will autonomously scout points of interest as the rover conducts chemical analyses of each location in search for features consistent with the idea that Mars may have once been habitable.