Published : Monday, March 26, 2018 | 5:15 PM
NASA has started the Assembly, Test, and Launch Operation (ATLO) phase of its Mars 2020 mission, with engineers at JPL working to build the rover that will be launched in July and is set to land on Mars in February 2021.
The work includes final assembly and electrical integration of flight hardware into the spacecraft’s rocket-powered “sky crane” descent stage, the rover itself, the cruise stage, and the aeroshell, said a report in New Atlas.
Mars 2020 is the latest mission in NASA’s Mars Exploration Program and will visit areas that are believed to have been habitable. It will also collect and analyze soil and rock samples for chemical biosignatures. Some of these samples will be stored for recovery and return to Earth by a future mission.
The unmanned, nuclear-powered rover will also study the Martian environment to help determine its suitability for supporting future manned missions.
The Mars 2020 rover is designed like an updated version of the Curiosity, which is currently exploring the surface of the Red Planet. Mars 2020 has the same chassis and undercarriage as Curiosity, (though with improved wheels for greater durability) and will use the same plutonium-fueled nuclear radiothermal generator for power.
The construction of the Mars 2020 rover uses parts that come from a global logistical network, NASA said.
“Parts of this mission are coming from the other side of the world, some are coming from just ‘down the street’ in Pasadena, and some are coming from literally down the street—a couple of buildings away,” said David Gruel, ATLO Manager for Mars 2020. “Right now we are working the descent stage, and by fall we expect to be working on the rover itself.”
NASA says that the propulsion systems for the cruise and descent stages have already been installed. In the next 18 months, engineers will add avionics, the power system, telecommunications, mechanisms, thermal systems, and navigation systems and subsystems.
In June, the rover will be shipped to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, where it will be placed atop an Atlas V 541 rocket for launch.