NASA’s 2020 Mars rover gets 7-foot-long robot arm
Engineers working in High Bay clean room 1 of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) recently added a vital component to the space agency’s Mars 2020 rover. On June 21, the team installed the rover’s main robotic arm. The 7-foot-long (2.1 meters) arm has five electric motors and five joints. Located at the end up the arm is the turret, which acts as the rover’s “hand.” The rover will use the science tools and drill in its turret to analyze collect samples of Martian rock and soil.
“You have to give a hand to our rover arm installation team,” said Ryan van Schilifgaarde, a support engineer at JPL for Mars 2020 assembly. “They made an extremely intricate operation look easy. We’re looking forward to more of the same when the arm will receive its turret in the next few weeks.”
As it explores the Martian surface in search of signs of ancient microbial life, the rover will use the SHERLOC and PIXL science instruments located in the turret to examine rocks and minerals up close. Also located in the turret is the WATSON camera, which acts as a geologist’s hand lens, magnifying and recording the textures of rock and soil targets studied by SHERLOC.
The turret will also house the rover’s rotary percussion drill, which is designed to extract rock core samples, and a suite of interchangeable drill bits. A smaller robotic arm, located in the rover’s belly, acts as a “lab assistant” to the main arm. This arm picks up and moves new sample tubes to the drill and transfers filled tubes to an area where they are sealed and stored.
The Mars 2020 rover will begin its journey to the Red Planet from Space Launch 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Station atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket. The launch is currently scheduled to take place some time between July 17 and August 5, 2020. If all goes well, the rover will land at Jerzo Crater on February 18, 2021.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.