The 2013 Mars Rover - as big as a car

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The 2013 Mars Rover - as big as a car

It weighs almost a tonne, has cost more than $2bn and, in 2013, it will be lowered on to the surface of Mars with a landing system that has never been tried before. The landing of such a big payload is, for many scientists, as exciting as the project itself.

How is it fueled? The Mars Science Laboratory rover will carry a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars' surface of at least a full Martian year (687 Earth days) or more while also providing significantly greater mobility and operational flexibility, enhanced science payload capability, and exploration of a much larger range of latitudes and altitudes than was possible on previous missions to Mars.

The decision to make the rover so large turned it into something that JPL's engineers could not accomplish before the 2009 initial launch date. The problems were mainly in two areas, says Dr McCuistion.

"The first was the avionics," he explains. "They were brand new… and much more challenging to build than expected.

"The other thing was the actuators. These are motors, each with a transmission built into one integral unit."

The sheer size and weight of MSL made these motors extremely complicated. In the largest of the rover's 50 actuators, there are up to 600 parts.

"They're designed to operate at very low voltage but create very high torque levels - to be able to move this 900kg rover, and they have to operate over an extreme range of temperatures," says Dr McCuistion.

The motors will drive the "Mini Cooper-sized rover" as well as move robotic arms that will reach out and grab samples from the surface of Mars for analysis by its on-board scientific instruments.

Putting these huge technical challenges aside, there was one nasty shock for Nasa that contributed to the delay. The agency unwittingly used a "bad batch" of titanium to build more than 1,000 parts on MSL.

Nasa purchased what it believed was military grade titanium from California-based Western Titanium.

"Someone [at that company] made a mistake," says Dr Green. "They certified that the titanium they were selling us, and that we were using, had a certain capability. It didn't."

This has meant painstaking verification of all of the titanium parts - to check they have the structural strength to withstand the launch.

"We're not quite done with that," says Dr Green. "But it doesn't look like it will be a show-stopper."

Much more on the link

NASA Home site http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa...

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By netchicken: posted on 18-2-2010

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