NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is roving toward completion. Having recently stood on its own six wheels for the first time and practiced its descent separation from the craft that will transport it to the red planet, the rover has now undergone vacuum testing at a facility in Pasadena, California.
In the time-lapse video above, you can see the rover being attended to by engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), dressed in white “bunny suits” to prevent dust or other contaminants from entering the rover’s delicate machinery. The rover is winched up and carefully moved from its high bay in the Spacecraft Simulator Building into the testing chamber on ropes suspended from the ceiling. Then it is lowered down to the floor again, ready for testing.
That might sound simple, but moving around the rover is a major challenge that requires tremendous planning and care. “Whenever you move the rover, it is a big deal,” Mars 2020 engineer Chris Chatellier of JPL said in a statement. “There is a technician on every corner, and other engineers and safety inspectors are monitoring and assisting every step of the way. Every move is choreographed, briefed, and rehearsed.”
The test chamber is a large vacuum chamber that can re-create aspects of the Martian environment, including the low atmospheric pressure and low temperature. The temperature on the Martian surface is around minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius), but it can get much colder during winter and at the planet’s poles, with temperatures dropping down to minus 195 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 125 degrees Celsius).
Once the rover had been through its chamber testing, it was taken back into the Spacecraft Assembly Facility to prepare for the next round of tests, the radio-emissions tests.
The craft which will carry the rover to its destination already underwent vacuum testing earlier this year. In that case, the craft was subjected to temperatures of minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 129 degrees Celsius) and bombarded by xenon lamps to simulate the rays of the sun, in order to test the craft’s abilities to survive in the vacuum of space. The craft survived a total of eight days of testing in the chamber with no issues.
The Mars 2020 mission is set to launch in July next year and is scheduled to land on Mars in February 2021.