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Mars 2020 Takes a Test Drive – Universe Today



NASA’s Mars 2020 rover has passed its driving test. The test was mostly a forward and backward maneuver, with a six-wheeled pirouette thrown in. It’s autonomous navigation system was also part of the test. Like a toddler’s first tentative steps, this is an important milestone.

This was a significant test for the rover. According to NASA, the rover passed the test and has earned its driver’s license. The next time it drives will be on the surface of Mars.

“Mars 2020 has earned its driver’s license.”

Rich Rieber, Lead Mobility Systems Engineer, Mars 2020 Rover

“Mars 2020 has earned its driver’s license,” said Rich Rieber, the lead mobility systems engineer for Mars 2020. “The test unambiguously proved that the rover can operate under its own weight and demonstrated many of the autonomous-navigation functions for the first time. This is a major milestone for Mars 2020.”

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Though not exactly autonomous, the 2020 rover is designed to make more of its own driving decisions than previous rovers. It has high-resolution, wide field-of-view navigation cameras, part of the group of 23 cameras it’s equipped with. That’s more than any previous rover. The rover has extra computer power that it’ll use to process images and make maps. It also has more sophisticated auto-navigation software.

<img src="×553.png" alt=" An image of the 2020 rover showing all of its cameras. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech” class=”wp-image-144445″ srcset=”×553.png 1024w,×313.png 580w,×135.png 250w,×415.png 768w,×829.png 1536w, 1775w” sizes=”(max-width: 767px) 89vw, (max-width: 1000px) 54vw, (max-width: 1071px) 543px, 580px”>
<Click to Enlarge> An image of the 2020 rover showing all of its cameras. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The 2020 rover will cover a lot of ground during its projected 668 sol (one Martian year) mission to find evidence of past microbial life on Mars. It’ll land at Jezero Crater in February 2021, and to get around on the surface of Mars, it’ll rely on redesigned aluminum wheels, each one with its own motor.

Getting a rover to Mars is a long, complicated undertaking, involving a lot of testing. Here’s the 2020 rover getting probed in a clean room. The probe measures how much light reaches each part of the rover. Image Credit: By NASA/JPL-Caltech

“To fulfill the mission’s ambitious science goals, we need the Mars 2020 rover to cover a lot of ground,” said Katie Stack Morgan, Mars 2020 deputy project scientist.

The 2020 rover is designed to travel about 200 meters (650 ft) every Martian day. To put that into perspective, the record for the longest distance travelled by a rover in one day belongs to NASA’s Opportunity rover. It covered 214 meters (702 ft) in a single day. So 2020’s average day will be about equal to the longest distance ever travelled by a rover in one day.

“We can’t wait to put some red Martian dirt under its wheels.”

John McNamee, Mars 2020 Project Manager.

This latest test took place on Dec. 17th. It was a marathon 10 hour testing session that saw all of the rover’s systems working together. Not only did it drive and steer and turn in place, but it maneuvered over small ramps, to replicate some of the terrain it’ll face on Mars. Since Martian gravity is weaker than Earth’s—only about 3/8ths as strong—NASA expects the rover to perform well once it reaches its destination.

“A rover needs to rove, and Mars 2020 did that yesterday,” said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager. “We can’t wait to put some red Martian dirt under its wheels.”

The rover’s wheels are arranged on a pair of legs on each side of the rover, with three wheels per leg. The leg is made out of titanium, one of the lightest and strongest materials available. Each of the aluminum wheels has 48 grousers or cleats on them, which should provide superior traction on Mars’ surface. Each wheel also has its own drive engine, and each of the front and rear wheels also have steering engines, allowing the rover to turn in place.

Personnel attaching the starboard leg and wheel assembly on the 2020 rover. These are engineering models, used only in testing. The flight models will be attached prior to the mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Personnel attaching the starboard leg and wheel assembly on the 2020 rover. These are engineering models, used only in testing. The flight models will be attached prior to the mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The wheels also have titanium spokes, which are curved and provide springy support for the 2020 rover. Together, the wheels, legs and engines are called the mobility suspension. The sophisticated system allows the rover to drive over rocks that are about thigh-high on a person, or 1.5 times the wheel diameter. (78 cm; 31 inches)

A close-up of the 2020 Rover's aluminum wheels and curved, titanium spokes. Image Credit: By X-Javier - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
A close-up of the 2020 Rover’s aluminum wheels and curved, titanium spokes. Image Credit: By X-Javier – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The 2020 rover will land in the Jezero Crater on Mars. It’s the sight of a long-gone paleo-lake. There’s an abundance of clay minerals there, as well as a fossilized river delta created by an ancient river that flowed into the crater.

Orbital picture of the Jezero crater, showing its fossil river delta. Credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/BROWN UNIVERSITY
Orbital picture of the Jezero crater, showing its fossil river delta. Credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/BROWN UNIVERSITY

The image below shows 2020’s landing spot, as well as the landing locations of other Mars rovers and landers.

Lander and rover landing locations on Mars. Image Credit: NASA
Lander and rover landing locations on Mars. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is building the 2020 rover, and they’ll operate it as well. The 2020 rover is part of a larger program that aims to see humans on Mars. That program includes the Artemis Program, which intends to land humans on the Moon again by 2024, including the first woman on the Moon. NASA also plans to establish a sustained human presence there by 2028, as one of the stepping stones to a crewed mission to Mars.


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NASA will launch the CAPSTONE mission on Monday, June 27 –



Rocket Lab's Electron rocket sits atop the launch pad at Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand for a rehearsal before the CAPSTONE launch.

A small satellite is preparing to pave the way for something much greater: a fully grown lunar space station. NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite is scheduled to launch on Monday and then travel to a unique lunar orbit on the Pathfinder mission Artemis programwhich seeks to return humans to the moon later this decade.

capstone He rides aboard Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which will take off from the private company’s Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. Rocket Lab made headlines in May using a helicopter to catch a falling booster missile. CAPSTONE is scheduled to launch at 6 AM ET on June 27 with live coverage starting an hour earlier. You can watch the event in the agency website or ApplicationOr, you can watch it on the live stream below.

NASA Live: The official broadcast of NASA TV

About a week after the CAPSTONE mission, the probe’s flight will be available through NASA Eyes on the solar system Interactive 3D visualization of data in real time.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission will send a microwave-sized satellite into near corona orbit (NRHO) around the moon. The satellite will be the first to sail its way around this unique lunar orbit, testing it for the planned date Moon Gatea small space station intended to allow a permanent human presence on the moon.

NRHO is special in that it is where the gravitational force of the Moon and Earth interact. This orbit would theoretically keep the spacecraft in a “beautiful gravitational spot” in a near-stable orbit around the Moon, according to to NASA. Therefore NRHO is ideal because it will require less fuel than conventional orbits and will allow the proposed lunar space station to maintain a stable line of communication with Earth. But before NASA builds its gateway into this highly elliptical orbit, the space agency will use CAPSTONE — which is owned and operated by Colorado-based Advanced Space — to test its orbital models.

Artist’s concept of CAPSTONE.
GIF: NASA/Daniel Rutter

Six days after launch from Earth, the upper stage of the Electron rocket will launch the CAPSTONE satellite on its journey to the Moon. The 55-pound (25-kilogram) cube vehicle will perform the rest of the four-month solo journey. Once on the moon, CAPSTONE will test the orbital dynamics of its orbit for about six months. The satellite will also be used to test spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation technology and unidirectional range capabilities that could eventually reduce the need for future spacecraft to communicate with mission controllers on Earth and wait for signals from other spacecraft to relay.

NASA is systematically putting together the pieces for the agency’s planned return to the Moon. The The fourth and final rehearsal for the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) went wellpaving the way for a possible launch in late August.

more: This small satellite linked to the moon can make a path to the lunar space station

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Astronaut view of New Zealand's North Island –



Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the North Island of New Zealand. The photo was captured as the International Space Station (ISS) approached the southernmost extent of its prograde 51.6 degree orbit. 

From this vantage point – and with the perfect weather conditions – astronauts can get a clear view of the North Island of New Zealand, according  to ESA.

“Looking towards the northwest, the astronaut photographer captured the mottled-green island that separates the Tasman Sea from the South Pacific Ocean. On the other side of Cook Strait, South Island peeks out from beneath the cloud cover,” reports ESA.

“Seven bays surround the North Island and define its distinctive shape. The inland landscape includes grasslands (lighter green areas), forests (darker green areas), volcanic plateaus, and mountain ranges formed from sedimentary rocks.”

Lake Taupō, located in the center of the North Island, is a crater lake inside a caldera formed by a supervolcanic eruption. The lake borders the active volcano Mount Ruapehu, which has the highest peak in New Zealand. 

“The volcanic nature of the island arises from its location on the tectonic plate boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific Plates,” says ESA. “This plate boundary is part of the vast Pacific Ring of Fire, and leads to significant geothermal activity and earthquakes in the region. Additional volcanoes, including Egmont Volcano (Mount Taranaki), also dot the North Island landscape.”

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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Artemis 1 moon mission could launch as soon as late August –



NASA officials have declared the Artemis 1 moon rocket’s most recent “wet dress rehearsal” a success and are hopeful the mission can get off the ground as soon as late August.

The Artemis 1 stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket topped by an Orion capsule — is scheduled to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on July 1, where the massive vehicle will undergo repairs and preparations for its coming launch. 

Artemis 1, the first launch for the SLS, will send an uncrewed Orion on a roughly month-long mission around the moon. The mission has experienced several delays, and most recently the rocket’s certification to fly has been held up by incomplete fueling tests — a key part of the wet dress rehearsal, a three-day series of trials designed to gauge a new vehicle’s readiness for flight. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission explained in photos 

The Artemis 1 stack first rolled from the VAB to KSC’s Pad 39B in mid-March, to prep for a wet dress rehearsal that began on April 1. But three separate attempts to fill the SLS with cryogenic propellants during that effort failed, sending the stack back to the VAB for repairs on April 25. The most recent wet dress try, which wrapped up on Monday (June 20), didn’t go perfectly, but NASA has deemed it good enough to proceed with preparations for launch.

Operators were able to fully fuel SLS for the first time, bringing the launch simulation much further along than any of the attempts in April. A leak from the core stage’s engine cooling system “umbilical” line was detected during Monday’s fueling test, but mission managers determined that the deviation didn’t pose a safety risk and continued with the simulation’s terminal count. That ended up being the right decision, Artemis 1 team members said.  

Mission operators were able to run a “mask” for the leak in the ground launch sequencer software, which permitted computers in mission control to acknowledge the malfunction without flagging it as a reason to halt the countdown, according to Phil Weber, senior technical integration manager at KSC. Weber joined other agency officials on a press call Friday (June 24) to discuss the plans for Artemis 1 now that the wet dress is in the rear view mirror.

The software mask allowed the count to continue through to the handoff from the mission control computers to the automated launch sequencer (ALS) aboard the SLS at T-33 seconds, which ultimately terminated the count at T-29 seconds. 

“[ALS] was really the prize for us for the day,” Weber said during Friday’s call. “We expected … it was going to break us out [of the countdown] because the ALS looks for that same measurement, and we don’t have the capability to mask it onboard.” 

It was unclear immediately following the recent wet dress if another one would be required, but mission team members later put that question to rest.

“At this point, we’ve determined that we have successfully completed the evaluations and required work we intended to complete for the dress rehearsal,” Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for Common Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters, said on Friday’s call. He added that NASA teams now have the “go ahead to proceed” with preparations for Artemis 1’s launch.

Before it can be rolled back to the VAB, however, the stack will undergo further maintenance at Pad 39B, including repairs to the quick-disconnect component on the aft SLS umbilical, which was responsible for Monday’s hydrogen leak. 

There’s also one more test technicians need to perform at the pad. Hot-firing the hydraulic power units (HBUs), part of the SLS’ solid rocket boosters, was originally part of the wet dress countdown but was omitted when the countdown was aborted. Those tests will be completed by Saturday (June 25), according to Lanham. Following the hot-fire tests, operators will then spend the weekend offloading the HBUs’ hydrazine fuel.

Once back in the VAB, NASA officials estimate it’ll take six to eight weeks of work to get Artemis 1 ready to roll back to Pad 39B for an actual liftoff. Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager at KSC, outlined some of the planned maintenance on Friday’s call. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis program of lunar exploration

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Among other tasks, technicians will perform standard vehicle inspections, hydrogen leak repairs, “late-stow” for the payloads flying on Orion, and software loads to the SLS core stage and upper stage. They will also install flight batteries.

“Ultimately, we want to get to our flight termination system testing,” Lanham said. “Once that’s complete, we’ll be able to perform our final inspections in all the volumes of the vehicle and do our closeouts.”

After that work is complete, the Artemis 1 stack will roll out from the VAB once again, making the eight to 11-hour crawl back to Pad 39B on July 1. Whitmeyer said on Friday that the late-August launch window for Artemis 1, which opens on Aug. 23 and lasts for one week, is “still on the table.”

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