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NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover’s extraordinary robotic sample collection system



Sample caching system for Mars Perseverance Rover

In this video clip, JPL engineers monitor the test of the Persevering Wanderer’s sample caching system. For the full video, see below. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Two astronauts collected moon rocks on Apollo 11.It will require three robotic systems to work together to collect the first Mars The rock sample returned to Earth.

The Apollo 1

1 sample brought back to Earth from the moon is the first sample obtained by humans from another celestial body. NASAThe “Mars 2020” Perseverance Rover mission will collect the first samples from another planet (the red planet) for subsequent missions to return to Earth. The Perseverance Rover will replace the astronauts, and will rely on the most complex, capable and cleanest mechanism ever to be sent to space, the sample cache system.

On May 20th, the NASA Perseverance Rover at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, loaded the last 39 of the 43 sample tubes in the center of the sample system, as well as the storage components that fixed them. (The other four test tubes have been loaded into different positions in the sample buffer system.) The integration of the final test tube marks one of the final critical steps in preparation for the launch of the Mars Perseverance Rover.

“Although you can’t help but marvel at the achievements of the Apollo era, they do provide us with one thing we don’t want: wear boots on the ground,” Adam Steezner, chief engineer of Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover mission Said at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “In order for us to collect the first samples of Mars returning to Earth, instead of two astronauts, we have three robots that must work with the accuracy of a Swiss watch.”


The first samples from the moon were collected by two astronauts. The first batch of samples collected for the eventual return to Earth from Mars will be three robots as a sample on the Perseverance Rover. Together they form the sample caching system for the tasks detailed in this video. Image source: NASA /Joint police-California Institute of Technology

Although many people regard Perseverance Rover as a robot, it is actually similar to a group of robots working together. The sample buffer system is located in front of the Perseverance Rover. It itself consists of three robots, the most obvious being the 7-foot-long (2m-long) robot arm of the rover. The five-joint arm is fixed to the front of the chassis of the rover, with a large turret, which includes a rotating percussion drill for collecting core samples of Martian rocks and boulders (broken rocks and dust).

The second robot looks like a small flying saucer built into the front of the rover. This equipment is called the drill bit conveyor belt and is the ultimate middleman for all Martian sample transactions: it will provide drill bits and empty sample tubes for the drill bits, and then move the filled tubes into the rover chassis for evaluation and processing.

The third robot in the Sample Caching System is a 1.6-foot-long (0.5-meter-long) sample handling arm (the team refers to it as “Tyrannosaurus Arm”). It is located on the abdomen of the rover station, picked up where the drill turntable left, and moves the sample tube between the storage and recording station and the drill turntable.

Clock accuracy

All these robots need to run with clock-like precision. However, in the case of a typical Swiss astronomical watch with fewer than 400 parts, the sample buffer system has more than 3,000 parts.

“It sounds like a lot, but when you consider that the task of the sample caching system is to automatically drill into Martian rock, take out a complete core sample and then seal it in an essentially ultra-sterile container, you begin to realize the complexity The demand does not contain any organic materials of earth origin that may hinder future analysis.” Steltzner said. “In terms of technology, it is the most complex and complex mechanism we have designed, tested and prepared for aerospace.”

The purpose of the task is to collect a dozen or more samples. So, how can this three-robot, a labyrinth motor the size of a steam wheel, a planetary gearbox, an encoder and other equipment be carefully combined for use?

“Basically, after our rotary percussion drill has taken a core sample, it will rotate and dock with one of the four docking cones of the drill bit turntable,” Steltzner said. “Then, the drill turret rotates the spark-filled drill bit and sample tube down into the rover station until our sample processing arm can hold it. That arm pulls the filled sample tube out of the drill bit and passes it through The camera in the sample buffer system images it.”

After the sample tube is imaged, the small robotic arm moves it to the volume assessment station, where the pull rod is pushed down into the sample to measure its size. “Then we go back and take another photo,” Steltzner said. “After that, we picked up a gasket (a small stopper) on the top of the sample tube and went back to take another image.”

Next, the Sample Caching System places the test tube in the sealing station, where a mechanism air-tightly seals the test tube with a cap. Steltzner added: “Then we take the test tube out and return it to storage from where it started.”

Designing and manufacturing the system and then integrating it into Perseverance has been going on for 7 years. And the work is not finished yet. As with all other equipment on the rover, there are two versions of the “Sample Cache System”: one that will be left on Earth for engineering test models, and the other will be shipped to Mars in flight.

Kelly Palm, JPL’s Sample Caching System integration engineer and Mars 2020 test leader, said: “The engineering model is exactly the same as the flight model in all aspects, and we have to work hard to break it. “We do this because we would rather see things on earth. Worn or cracked, not something on Mars. Therefore, we put the engineering test model into practice to inform us of the use of its flying twins on Mars. “

To this end, the team used different rocks to simulate terrain types. They drill from all angles to predict any possible situations that the rover may encounter, and the scientific team may wish to collect samples in these situations.

Palm said: “Every once in a while, I have to spend a little time thinking about what we are doing.” “A few years ago, I went to university. Now, I am working on the system, which will be responsible for collecting from another planet. The first samples to return to Earth. It’s great.”

About mission

Perseverance is a robotic scientist weighing approximately 2,260 pounds (1,025 kg). The Wanderer’s astrobiological mission will look for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the Earth’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for humans to explore the Red Planet. Perseverance will be released on July 30, 2020, and will land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.

NASA and the European Space Agency are currently planning two follow-up (follow-up) missions to return collected samples from the mission to Earth.

The Mars Perseverance Rover mission in 2020 is part of a larger plan that includes a flight to the moon in preparation for human exploration of the red planet. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will complete its mission to return to the moon in 2024 and will establish a permanent human presence on the moon and its surroundings through the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration program in 2028.




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