NASA has completed installation and testing of one of the final parts of the Perseverance rover, formerly known as the Mars 2020 rover, which is set to explore the Red Planet following its launch in a few months’ time. The rover’s Adaptive Caching Assembly and the Bit Carousel were integrated into the rover’s body, then their electrical wiring tested. Now, the interior of the rover is essentially complete.
“With the addition of the Adaptive Caching Assembly and Bit Carousel, the heart of our sample collection system is now on board the rover,” Matt Wallace, deputy project manager of the Mars 2020 mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “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. We will keep these pristine until we integrate them in a couple of months.”
The Adaptive Caching Assembly is a system of seven motors with more than 3,000 parts including a robotic arm. Its function is to collect samples of Martian rock, seal them in a canister, and leave them on the planet’s surface. In order to collect the samples, the rover has a rotating array of drill bits called the Bit Carousel which can deploy any one of nine different bits to tackle different types of rock or soil. The robotic arm will move the sampling tubes to the drill and then tuck them safely away once they have been filled. Two future missions to Mars could then collect these samples and return them to Earth for study.
The launch period for the rover is set to open in July this year, and NASA says that the global coronavirus pandemic has not affected the launch schedule at this time and that launch preparations are continuing. However, NASA has recently suspended work on its Space Launch System and Orion projects, so it is possible that the Perseverance launch could be impacted as well in the future.