NASA is hard at work getting the Mars 2020 Rover ready to launch next summer. In a “clean room” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, technicians have assembled the capsule that will carry the rover to Mars. They call it stacking, and it’s a vital part of keeping the mission on track.
Stacking is the process of physically putting together what all of those incredible brains and computers have so painstakingly thought about. Every part of the rover must be secured in the capsule so it doesn’t get damaged in a very dramatic entry into Mars’ atmosphere. David Gruel, assembly, test and launch operations manager for Mars 2020 at JPL said in a statement, “Stacking is an important milestone in mission development, because as good as our computer models are, we still need to put it together to show that the bolt holes line up and everything fits together,”. Yes. That seems important.
The process of stacking includes a fake rover, in addition to the real one. That way they can test assembly of the rover on a dummy to make sure the real thing will work, before the real thing gets any action.
The Mars 2020 team finished the most recent stacking tests on April 3rd. According to space.com, the next tests will take place at JPL’s Environmental Test Facility where the rover will be subjected to acoustic testing that will simulate sound waves that occur during launch. After that, they check for loose bits. Bolts, joints, attachment points, what have you. Then, assuming this all works out, the rover will be put into a thermal vacuum chamber to simulate conditions in space. The rover will be destacked and restacked. It will be poked and prodded and turned at angles and scrutinized constantly until it is rocketed into space in the summer of 2020. So cool.
When Mars 2020 arrives, it will follow in the footsteps of Curiosity, the only working rover left on the surface of the Red Planet. It will begin its search for ancient life on Mars.