NASA Tests Mars 2020 Rover Prototype at Icelandic Lava Field

first_imgStay on target As NASA prepares for its Mars rover to launch July 2020 and land at the Red Planet to explore Martian geology and collect samples for return to Earth, the space agency has taken to the lava fields of Iceland to get the unmanned vehicle ready for the job.Fifteen NASA scientists and engineers descended on the Lambahraun lava field at the foot of Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjokull, in July, to test a rover prototype.Experts say the terrain of the volcanic island Experts say that Iceland is in many ways reminiscent of the surface of Mars. (Photo Credit: Halldor Kolbeins / AFP / Getty Images)The terrain of Lambahraun lava field, located about 60 miles from Reykjavik, features black basalt sand, dunes, and craggy peaks, which experts say is reminiscent of the surface of the Mars.“It’s a very good analogue for Mars exploration and learning how to drive Mars rovers,” Adam Deslauriers, manager of space and education, at Canada’s Mission Control Space Services, told AFP.Before Mars became an inhospitable frozen desert with an average temperature of minus 81.4 degrees F, scientists believe that the planet shared many of the characteristics of Iceland. “The mineralogy in Iceland is very similar to what we would find on Mars,” said Ryan Ewing, associate professor of geology at Texas A&M University, who referred to minerals such as olivine and pyroxenes, both dark so-called mafic rocks, which have also been found on Mars.“In addition to that, we don’t have much vegetation, it’s cold and we have some of the environments like sand dunes and rivers and glaciers that Mars has evidence of in the past,” Ewing added.The prototype rover being used on the Icelandic lava field was “basically indestructible,” according to Adam Deslauriers, of Canada’s Mission Control Space Services. (Photo Credit: Halldor Kolbeins / AFP / Getty Images)Deslauriers described the rover prototype, which has a four-wheel drive propelled by two motors and is powered by 12 small car batteries stacked inside, as “indestructible.”“The rovers that we have on Mars and the Moon would be a lot more sensitive to the environment and conditions of Iceland,” Deslauriers told AFP.While the prototype tested on the Icelandic lava field is equipped with sensors, a computer, a dual-lens camera and controlled remotely, it’s not exactly identical to the actual Mars 2020 rover.The Mars 2020 rover, which has yet to be named, will be able to collect rock and soil samples from the surface of the Red Planet and store those samples in tubes for future missions to retrieve.The 2020 rover will land at Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, equipped with a system to cache science samples in tubes that will be delivered to a safe drop-off site. Two subsequent missions, currently in the concept stage, would be needed to bring the Mars 2020 samples home.The Mars 2020 rover is based on the Mars Science Laboratory‘s Curiosity rover configuration. It is car-sized, about 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall. At 2,314 pounds, it weighs less than a compact car. The public can watch live (see video below) as the Mars 2020 rover is built and tested in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at JPL.Earlier this month, engineers working on the Mars 2020 rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, completed the machine-vision calibration of the forward-facing cameras on the robotic explorer.Last month, JPL engineers tested the rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm, which maneuvered an 88-pound sensor-laden turret.More on Your Name to Mars Aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 RoverWatch: Scientists Simulate What a Marsquake Might Look Like40 Incredible Images of the Surface of Mars NASA Attaches Helicopter to Mars 2020 RoverNASA Now Accepting Names for Mars 2020 Rover last_img

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