NASA’s Extraordinary Robot Sample Collecting System Mars Rover

Mars Perseverance Rover's sample case system

JPL engineers are monitoring the testing of the Perseverance Rover’s sample caching system in this video clip. For the full video, see below. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Two astronauts have collected lunar rocks on Apollo 11.. It will take three robot systems to assemble the first March rock samples for return to earth.

The monsters that Apollo 11 brought to Earth from the moon were the first humanity of another celestial body. NASAMars 2020 Perseverance Rover mission will collect the first monsters from another planet (the red) for return to Earth through subsequent missions. In place of astronauts, the Perseverance Rover will rely on the most complex, capable and cleanest mechanism ever sent into space, the Sample Caching System.

The last 39 of the 43 monster tubes in the heart of the monster system have been loaded, along with the storage assembly it will hold, aboard NASA’s Perseverance Rover on May 20 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (The other four tubes have already been loaded at different locations in the sample caching system.) The integration of the final tubes was one of the last important steps in preparation for the Mars Perseverance Rover launch.

“While you can not help but marvel at what was accomplished in the days of Apollo, they had one thing we do not do: boots on the ground,” said Adam Steltzner, chief engineer for the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover mission, said. at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “For us to collect the first monsters from Mars for return to Earth, in place of two astronauts, we have three robots that have to work with the precision of a Swiss watch.”

The first monsters of the Moon were collected by two astronauts. The first monsters collected to eventually return to Earth from Mars take three robots aboard the Perseverance Rover that works as one. Together they set out the example of the mission’s Caching system outlined in this video. Image Credit: NASA /JPL-Caltech

Although many people consider the Perseverance rover to be one robot, it is actually similar to a collection of robots working together. The Sample Caching System, located at the front of the Perseverance Rover, consists of three robots, the most visible robot arm of which is 7 feet long (2 meters long). Built to the front of the chassis of the rover, the five-legged arm carries a large revolver containing a twist drill to collect core samples of Mars rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

The second robot looks like a small flying saucer built into the front of the rover. This device, called the bit carousel, is the ultimate middleman for all Mars sample transactions: it will supply drill bits and empty sample tubes to the drill and move the sample-filled tubes later into the Rover chassis for assessment and processing.

The third robot in the Sample Caching System is the 1.6-foot (0.5-meter-long) sample handling arm (known by the team as the “T. rex arm ”). Located in the belly of the rover, it picks up where the bit carousel leaves, and moves sample tubes between the storage and documentation stations as well as the bit carousel.

Clock-like precision

All these robots must work with clockwise precision. But where the typical Swiss chronometer has less than 400 parts, the sample caching system has more than 3,000.

‘It sounds like a lot, but you start to realize that the need for complexity is when you think that the sample system has the task of autonomously drilling into Mars rock, extracting intact core samples and then hermetically sealing them in essentially sterile vessels. free of any organic matter coming from the earth that could hinder future analyzes, ”said Steltzner. “In terms of technology, it’s the most intricate, sophisticated mechanism we’ve ever built, tested and prepared for spaceflight.”

The purpose of the mission is to collect a dozen or more monsters. So, how does this three-robot, steamer-hull-sized labyrinthine collection of cars, planetary gearboxes, encoders, and other devices work closely together to take it?

“Essentially, after our hammer drill takes a core sample, it will turn around and get stuck with one of the four abutment cones of the bit carousel,” Steltzner said. ‘Then the bit carousel rotates the Mars-filled drill bit and a sample tube inside the rover to a place where our sample handling arm can grab it. That arm pulls the filled sample tube from the drill bit and takes it to record through a camera in the sample caching system. ‘

After the sample tube is imaged, the small robot arm moves it to the volume assessment station, where a ram rod pushes into the sample to measure its size. “Then we go back and take another picture,” Steltzner said. ‘Then we pick up a seal – a plug’ for the top of the sample tube and go back to take another photo. ‘

The Sample Caching System then places the tube in the sealing station, where a mechanism hermetically seals the tube with the hood. “Then we take out the tube,” Steltzner adds, “and we put it back in the storage room where it started.”

Having the system designed and manufactured and then integrating into Perseverance was a seven-year endeavor. And the work is not finished. As with all others, there are two versions of the Sample Caching System: an engineering test model that will stay here on Earth and the flight model that will travel to Mars.

“The engineering model is identical to the flight model in every possible way, and it is our job to try to break it down,” said Kelly Palm, Sample Caching System integration engineer and Mars 2020 test leader at JPL. ‘We do it because we want to see things wear or break on Earth rather than on Mars. Therefore, we thoroughly reviewed the engineering test model to inform our use of its flight twins on Mars. ”

To do this, the team uses different rocks to mimic types of terrain. They drill it from different angles to expect on any conceivable situation in which the rover could be where the scientific team wants to collect a sample.

“Every now and then I have to take a little bit and reflect on what we do,” Palm said. “Just a few years ago I was in college. Now I am working on the system that will be responsible for collecting the first samples from another planet for return to Earth. This is quite amazing. ”

About the Mission

Perseverance is a robot scientist who weighs about 1,025 kilograms. The rover’s astrobiology mission will look for signs of microbial life in the past. It will characterize the climate and geology of the planet, collect monsters for future return to Earth and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. Perseverance will be lifted on July 30, 2020 and will land at the Jezero Crater of Mars on February 18, 2021.

The two subsequent missions needed to return the collected samples from the mission to Earth are currently being planned by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover 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. NASA will be charged by 2024 with the return of the astronauts to the Moon.