NASA reveals the new wavy Martian wheels it thinks can crush the red planet

The Perseverance rover gets its grousers ahead of planned July/August launch


NASA has revealed the wheels it’s just bolted onto the Perseverance Rover, the new Mars assault robot it plans to send to the red planet in July as part of the Mars 2020 mission.

Wheels matter because NASA’s Curiosity rover has had trouble keeping a grip on Mars. As we reported in 2017, Curiosity has been popping unintentional wheelies as its six wheels struggle over rocks and sand. While a software patch delivered the robot a new a traction control algorithm that keeps it grounded and lessens wear on wheels, the vehicle's wheels have holes and cracks thanks to pressure produced when rolling over sharp rocks.

Those holes are a worry because the rover doesn’t carry a spare and even if it did, good luck finding someone to fit it!

Hence NASA’s new design, which the space agency has described as featuring 48 gently curved treads. That’s double the number of Curiosity’s 24 chevron-shaped treads.

“Extensive testing in the Mars Yard at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built the rover and manages operations, has shown these treads better withstand the pressure from sharp rocks and grip just as well or better than Curiosity's when driving on sand,” the space agency wrote. Which should mean the rover can find nice places from which to unleash its lasers and other instruments.

Mars 2020 is due to launch between July 17th and August 5th this year. The mission will attempt to land on February 18th, 2021, using an improved version of the “sky crane” that landed Curiosity in 2012. Before that machine does its thing, Perseverance will descend beneath a parachute that’s also recently been fitted to the robot.

It’s a might impressive chute. As NASA explains: “Tasked with slowing the heaviest payload in the history of Mars exploration from Mach 1.7 to about 200 mph (320 kph) during the rover's landing on Feb., 18, 2021, the 194 pounds (88 kilograms) of nylon, Technora and Kevlar fibers are packed so tightly into a 20-inch-wide (50-centimeter-wide) aluminum cylinder that it is as dense as oak wood. When deployed at about 7 miles (11 kilometers) above the Martian surface, the chute will take about a half-second to fully inflate its 70.5-foot-wide (21.5-meter-wide) canopy.”

Perseverance is bringing a buddy to Mars, too, in the form of a small drone helicopter that will be used to test the viability of flight on Mars. The ‘copter is equipped with cameras, too, so hopefully we’ll get some fabulous footage! ®


Other stories you might like

  • NASA wants nuclear reactor on the Moon by 2030
    Space boffins task engineers with creating 40kW lunar fission plant that can operate for ten years

    NASA has chosen the three companies it will fund to develop a nuclear fission reactor ready to test on the Moon by the end of the decade.

    This power plant is set to be a vital component of Artemis, the American space agency's most ambitious human spaceflight mission to date. This is a large-scale project to put the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, and establish a long-term presence on Earth's natural satellite.

    NASA envisions [PDF] astronauts living in a lunar base camp, bombing around in rovers, and using it as a launchpad to explore further out into the Solar System. In order for this to happen, it'll need to figure out how to generate a decent amount of power somehow.

    Continue reading
  • Mars Express orbiter to get code update after 19 years
    And over millions of miles, too. Piece of cake!?

    The software on ESA's Mars Express spacecraft is to be upgraded after nearly two decades, giving the orbiter capabilities to hunt for water beneath the planet and study its larger moon, Phobos.

    Mars Express was launched on June 2, 2003, and was initially made up of two components: the Mars Express Orbiter and the Beagle 2 lander. Unfortunately, the lander failed to make contact with Earth after it was released and arrived at the surface of the Red Planet. It is presumed lost. The orbiter, however, is still working after 19 years in service, spinning around Mars.

    Now, engineers at the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), Italy, are revamping the spacecraft's software. The upgrade will allow the Mars Express Orbiter to continue searching for water locked beneath the Martian surface using its MARSIS radio-wave instrument and monitor the planet's closest satellite, Phobos, more efficiently. MARSIS is today operated by INAF and funded by the Italian Space Agency.

    Continue reading
  • Whatever hit the Moon in March, it left this weird double crater
    NASA probe reveals strange hole created by suspected Chinese junk

    Pic When space junk crashed into the Moon earlier this year, it made not one but two craters on the lunar surface, judging from images revealed by NASA on Friday.

    Astronomers predicted a mysterious object would hit the Moon on March 4 after tracking the debris for months. The object was large, and believed to be a spent rocket booster from the Chinese National Space Administration's Long March 3C vehicle that launched the Chang'e 5-T1 spacecraft in 2014.

    The details are fuzzy. Space agencies tend to monitor junk closer to home, and don't really keep an eye on what might be littering other planetary objects. It was difficult to confirm the nature of the crash; experts reckoned it would probably leave behind a crater. Now, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has spied telltale signs of an impact at the surface. Pictures taken by the probe reveal an odd hole shaped like a peanut shell on the surface of the Moon, presumably caused by the Chinese junk.

    Continue reading
  • Liftoff at last for South Korean space program
    Satellite-deploying rocket finally launches – after a few setbacks

    South Korea's Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) yesterday succeeded in its endeavor to send the home-grown Nuri launcher into space, then place a working satellite in orbit.

    The launch was scheduled for earlier in June but was delayed by weather and then again by an anomaly in a first-stage oxidizer tank. Its October 2021 launch failed to deploy a dummy satellite, thanks to similar oxidizer tank problems that caused internal damage.

    South Korea was late to enter the space race due to a Cold War-era agreement with the US, which prohibited it developing a space program. That agreement was set aside and yesterday's launch is the culmination of more than a decade of development. The flight puts South Korea in a select group of nations that have demonstrated the capability to build and launch domestically designed and built orbital-class rockets.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022