It was only a couple of weeks ago that NASA’s Mars 2020 rover got renamed to the Perseverance rover, and with a launch opportunity rapidly approaching in the next few months, NASA engineers are working to ensure that the six-wheeled Martian exploration vehicle will be ready before the limited window of opportunity for launch comes and passes.
Image Credit: NASA
Currently residing at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the incomplete Perseverance rover is beginning to take shape. In the past couple of weeks, assembly teams at the facility installed two vital components that will help the rover perform its primary exploration duties when it finally arrives at Mars, including the Adaptive Caching Assembly and the Bit Carousel.
These components are precisely what they sound like, with the Adaptive Caching Assembly being an autonomous laboratory existing inside of Perseverance’s ‘belly’ that will handle and analyze all the surface samples that the rover collects. The Bit Carousel, on the other hand, is a rotating carousel that houses all nine of Perseverance’s bits for drilling into the Martian surface during sample collection.
"With the addition of the Adaptive Caching Assembly and Bit Carousel, the heart of our sample collection system is now on board the rover," explained Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager.
To complete Perseverance’s sample collection system, engineers will soon integrate specialized sample tubes that will be used to contain the Martian surface samples. These sample tubes will be fetchable in the event that scientists ever fancy returning them to Earth for an even closer in-person analysis.
"Our final but most crucial elements to install will be the sample tubes that will contain the first samples that will be brought from another planet back to Earth for analysis," Wallace continued. "We will keep these pristine until we integrate them in a couple of months."
Assembly of the Perseverance rover is set to continue through the next several months, COVID-19 restrictions permitting. With a little luck, NASA will complete assembly before the deadline required to utilize the Hohmann Transfer Orbit, an opportunistic moment in which Earth and Mars transpire in similar positions whilst orbiting the Sun. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these circumstances save time and reduce fuel costs for Martian missions, among other things.
It should be interesting to see how this race against time pans out, especially given the state of workplaces at this difficult time.