NASA takes its Mars 2020 rover out for a literal spin to check its center of gravity

The rover weighs roughly 570 kgs and travels at a leisurely speed of 20 centimetres per second here on Earth.


NASA is hard at work preparing for the launch of the Mars 2020 rover.

Most recently, the rover's engineers at NASA placed the rover on a spin table and rotated it clock and anti-clockwise. This seemingly trivial exercise was done to find the rover's centre of gravity, now that the rover is fully-built and tested. This key step in the rover's development will help NASA engineers ensure the rover travels safely on Martian terrain. Based on what they find, the engineers will add weights as needed, ensuring the vehicle is balanced.

NASA takes its Mars 2020 rover out for a literal spin to check its center of gravity

NASA's new robotic space explorer at theri base at the Lambahraun lava field in Iceland. Image Credit: Halldor Kolbeins/ AFP

So far, 20 kilograms of tungsten weights have been added to get the rover's centre of gravity just right.

"The spin table process is similar to how a gas station would balance a new tire before putting it on your car. We rotate the rover back and forth and look for asymmetries in its mass distribution. Then, similar to your gas station putting small weights on the tire's rim to bring it into balance, we'll put small balance masses on the rover in specific locations to get its centre of gravity exactly where we want it," Lemil Cordero, Mars 2020 mass properties engineer at JPL said in a statement.

There will be a second spin table test to confirm its centre of gravity.

NASA had taken a rover out to the lava fields of Iceland to prepare it for its job. With its black basalt sand, wind-swept dunes and craggy peaks, the Lambahraun lava field at the foot of Iceland's second biggest glacier, Langjokull, was chosen as a stand-in for the Red Planet's surface.

The Mars 2020 rover on the spin table

The 570-kilogram-rover travelled at a leisurely pace of 20 centimetres per second. However, that's still two to four times faster than it is expected to move on Mars. The mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Mars 2020 will be the first spacecraft to accurately retarget its point of a touchdown during its landing sequence. The rover is targetting the Jezero Crater on Mars for its landing, which is slated for 28 February 2021.

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