Did you know NASA’s next Mars rover has a nearly identical sibling on Earth for testing? Even better, it’s about to roll for the first time through a replica Martian landscape.
As NASA’s Mars
rover Perseverance hurtles through space toward the Red Planet, the
six-wheeler’s twin is ready to roll here on Earth.
engineering version of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover – outfitted with wheels,
cameras, and powerful computers to help it drive autonomously – has just moved
into its garage home at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern
California. This rover model passed its first driving test in a relatively tame
warehouselike assembly room at JPL on Sept. 1. Engineers expect to take it out next
week into the Mars Yard, where a field of red dirt studded with rocks and other
obstacles simulates the Red Planet’s surface.
A full-scale engineering model of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover now resides in a garage facing the Mars Yard at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
mobility team can’t wait to finally drive our test rover outside,” said
Anais Zarifian, the mobility test bed engineer at JPL. “This is the test
robot that comes closest to simulating the actual mission operations
Perseverance will experience on Mars – with wheels, eyes, and brains all
together – so this rover is going to be especially fun to work with.”
Does Perseverance Need a Twin?
isn’t flying to Mars with a mechanic. To avoid as many unexpected issues as
possible after the rover lands on Feb. 18, 2021, the team needs this
Earth-bound vehicle system test bed (VSTB) rover to gauge how hardware and
software will perform before they transmit commands up to Perseverance on Mars.
This rover model will be particularly useful for completing a full set of
software tests so the team can send up patches while Perseverance is en route
to Mars or after it has landed.
Engineers test drive the Earth-bound twin of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover for the first time in a warehouselike assembly room at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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And just like
Perseverance has a fitting name – one that captures the hard work of getting
the rover on its way to Mars amid a pandemic – its twin has a name, too: OPTIMISM.
While OPTIMISM is an acronym for Operational Perseverance Twin for Integration
of Mechanisms and Instruments Sent to Mars, the name is also a nod to the
mantra of the team that spent two years planning and assembling it.
“The Mars 2020 Perseverance test
bed team’s motto is ‘No optimism allowed,'”
said Matt Stumbo, the lead for the VSTB rover on the test bed team. “So
we named the test rover OPTIMISM to remind us of the work we have to do to
fully test the system. Our job is to find problems, not just hope
activities will work. As we work through the issues with OPTIMISM,
we gain confidence in Perseverance’s capabilities and confidence in our ability
to operate on Mars.”
nearly identical to Perseverance: It is the same size, has the same mobility
system and top driving speed (0.094 mph, or 0.15 kph), and features the same
distinctive “head,” known as the remote sensing mast. After a second
phase of building at the beginning of the new year, it will have the full suite
of science instruments, cameras, and computer “brains” Perseverance has,
plus its unique system for collecting rock and
OPTIMISM lives at JPL, it also features some Earthly differences. For one
thing, while Perseverance gets its power from a multi-mission radioisotope
(a kind of nuclear battery that has reliably powered space missions since the
1960s), OPTIMISM features an umbilical cord that can be plugged in for electrical
power. That cord also provides an ethernet connection, allowing the mission team
to send commands to and receive engineering data back from OPTIMISM without
installing the radios Perseverance uses for communication. And whereas Perseverance
comes with a heating system to keep it warm in the frigid environment of Mars, OPTIMISM
relies on a cooling system for operating in hot Southern California summers.
Technicians move an engineering version of the Perseverance Mars rover into to its new home in the Mars Yard, part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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JPL’s only VSTB rover. NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, which has been exploring
the Red Planet since it landed in 2012, has a twin named MAGGIE (Mars Automated Giant Gizmo for Integrated Engineering).
MAGGIE has been helping the Curiosity team particularly with strategies for
driving across challenging terrain and drilling rocks.
MAGGIE will live side-by-side in the Mars Yard, giving JPL engineers a two-car
garage for the first time.
that are operating require high-fidelity replicas of their systems for testing,”
Stumbo said. “The Curiosity mission has learned lessons from MAGGIE that
were impossible to learn any other way. Now that we have OPTIMISM, the
Perseverance mission is well equipped to learn what they need to succeed on
Perseverance rover’s astrobiology mission will search for
signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet’s climate
and geology, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the
first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken
rock and dust). Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in
cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to
collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for
Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the
Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with
returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human
presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.
JPL, which is managed
for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of
the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers.
Learn more about the
Mars 2020 mission at:
News Media Contact
Jia-Rui Cook / D.C. Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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NASA Headquarters, Washington
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Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory