Can people live on Mars? This is where it all started for me and the multiple rovers that are on Mars right now. That was the question that eventually resulted in the launch of the Mars rovers. There are 4 rovers from NASA on Mars at the moment and they will be launching another one in July. The main goal of a Mars rover is researching the climate, finding life, discovering more about the geology and most importantly, finding out if people can live on Mars. I will be focusing on what a rover needs to function and what it does. I will try to find as much sources that come directly from NASA. For the technology, I will be focusing on the curiosity rover, because he is the newest rover on Mars and therefore has the newest technology. I will not look at Mars 2020 Rover because he did not launch yet.
What technology is needed to launch a Mars rover?
NASA uses a rocket to fire the rover into space. This device is called the Launch Vehicle. Once the launch vehicle is out of the earth’s atmosphere it releases the rover and the rover continues on his own, with just a little bit of help. For the Curiosity rover, the rocket NASA used was the Atlas V-541. This rocket was made in collaboration with boing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp and was launched on the 26th of November 2011 at 4:02 p.m. CET on the Cape Canaveral launch platform. Most of the bigger companies in America launch their spacecrafts here. This launch vehicle was chosen because the curiosity rover weighs 899 kg and the rocket had just the right amount of lift-off capability, the amount of power it needs to lift the vehicle. It works by having the payload no top of the rocket. The rocket itself exists out of 3 parts and the payload holder, is around 58.3 meters high and weighs 590.000 kg and was first launched on the 21st of august in 2002. It is an older model, but had proven himself to be a reliable rocket in the past.
The first part is the biggest and main rocket. It is 32.46 meters high and 3.81 meters wide and therefore is the biggest component of the whole rocket. The engine was a joint venture of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in Florida and NPO Energomash in Moscow.[footnoteRef:2] The second parts of the rocket are the solid rocket motors. There are four of them and each are around 19.5 meters high and 1.55 meters wide. These rockets are there to add more stabilisation and thrust to the rocket.
The Atlas V Rocket and the Solid Rocket Motors are used in the first stage, then they get detached from the rest of the rocket to reduce weight and to make space for the centaur. [footnoteRef:3] The centaur contains the “brains” that control the rocket and a smaller, less powerful engine to get out of the orbit that was created in the first stage. It is also responsible for releasing the payload.
The last part is the Payload Fairing, or the place where the payload gets stored. it is a sort of cap that goes over the payload to protect it.
What technology is needed to let the rover navigate through space?
The curiosity rover used a Spacecraft to get to Mars. A spacecraft is “The protective ‘spaceship’ that enables the precious cargo (that is, the rover!) to travel between Earth and Mars.” [NASA. “Getting to Mars.” NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, NASA, Mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/spacecraft/getting-to-Mars. Accessed 3 Jan. 2020.] The spacecraft detaches from the Centaur the moment it completely escaped from Earth’s atmosphere, and most importantly, its gravity pull. The spacecraft consisted out of 3 main parts, but in this part we are only going to talk about the first one because that one is used for traveling.
The first piece is the cruise stage, this is what it uses once it disengaged from the rocket. It is the most important part when traveling from the Earth to Mars because if there is a meteor shower that is coming, the cruiser has to dodge them. He also checks the state of the vehicle and is the one who has contact with earth if something goes wrong or he finds a mistake in the configurations of the rover that is inside the cruiser. The most important thing that the cruiser does is preparing for the entry of Mars’ atmosphere and gravitational pull, the descent once Mars’ pull is strong enough.
What technology is needed to let the rover land on Mars?
[image: ]In the previous part, I wrote about the spacecraft and how it has three parts. Now I am going to talk about the second one. As the third one is the rover itself that is stored inside the spacecraft. “The entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase began when the spacecraft reached the Martian atmosphere” [NASA. “Entry, Descent, and Landing.” NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, Mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/timeline/edl. Accessed 4 Jan. 2020.] Mars’ atmosphere starts around 125 km above the surface of Mars. To land the rover safely, multiple tactics are used to get the spacecraft on the surface of Mars. Some tactics have proven themselves and were recycled from other projects, like the parachute.
Once the spacecraft enters the atmosphere, it deploys a parachute and goes from 1000 m/s to 100 m/s. Other methods were totally new. One of those new methods being the sky crane. The sky crane comes with a sort of jetpack that is attached to the rover. Once the spacecraft hits 100 m/s, the rover and the jetpack detach from the spacecraft. The jetpack activates and slows down the rover even more. Once it is close enough to the ground, the jetpack disconnects from the rover. The 899 Kg rover is now hanging from 3 ropes. The instant the rover is steady on the ground, he cuts the wires so that the jetpack can fly away. Now the rover should be safely on the surface of mars. All of this has to happen in a really precise way because the rover has to land on just the right spot. If it is too far away from the intended spot, there could be too many rocks and the wheels would break. Or if it too far away, he couldn’t complete his intended mission.
What does the rover do once he is on Mars?
The function of the Mars rover is different on every single model. The curiosity rover was more like a geographer, researching what the climate was on Mars and what is under the surface to find out if the living conditions are right, while most of the older models were looking for evidence water, with success. I will focus on the function of the curiosity rover because he has the most “science instruments”, these are devices that help the rover with researching the planet, like the drill that is put on top of curiosity, he has eleven of these instruments in total.
Curiosity has three different cameras. The first one is called the Mastercam, it can make pictures and videos and can stick together these pictures for a panorama picture. This way NASA knows how the environment where the rover roams around looks like and can decide where they want the rover to go next. The second instrument is called the MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager). This is a camera that can take pictures from up close. This helps with revealing the textures of rocks on mars. After Curiosity drilled a hole, this camera can examine the rocks that were further under the surface from up close.[footnoteRef:10] The last camera is called the MARDI (Mars Descent Imager). This camera was a crucial part for the landing of Curiosity. While descending, this camera mapped Gale Crater, the place where he landed. The camera looked for rocks that he had to avoid while landing. It also looked at the rest of the area, so that NASA could decide where they wanted to go after touchdown.
There are four spectrometers on board of Curiosity. Spectrometers are devices that use light or radiation to measure specific characteristics of an object. APXS (Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer) is the first one that I am going to talk about. It is placed next to a rock or surface and uses two different kinds of radiation to measure the chemicals that are inside the thing that he is investigating. The second spectrometer is the ChemCam (Chemistry and Camera). It consists out of a laser, camera and a spectrograph. A spectrograph is the same as a spectrometer but uses a different technology to get the same result. The laser, camera and spectrograph work together to look at chemicals and minerals inside of soils. The third one is called the CheMin (Chemical and Mineralogy). This one is mostly used for powdered rock samples to look at the amounts of minerals in them. The last spectrometer is called SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars). This part consists of 6 separate parts. Together these parts form SAM, an instrument whose main job is to identify organic carbon-containing compounds.
The Curiosity rover also has two radiation detectors. The RAD (Radiation Assessment Detector) detects the amount and what kind of radiation there is. This helps with preparing us with going to mars, if there is too much radiation it could be dangerous for us. The second radiation detector is called DAN (Dynamic Albedo Of Neutrons). It researches the way that neutrons are released from the soil on mars. This way he can look if there is still water or ice under the soil.
At last the rover also has two different sensors. The first one is an environmental sensor that is called REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station). It provides daily and seasonal data for the weather close to the rover. The second sensor is an atmospheric sensor called MEDLI (Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument). This was on the heatshield and measured the heat and pressure during the decent to help determine the effects on different parts of the spacecraft.
What can we do if something goes wrong with the rover?
We cannot do that much. We can try to reset it. Sometimes they have luck and it works, other times Mars’ nature blows dust on the solar panels so it cannot recharge anymore.
What technology is needed to get a Mars rover to function?
- You need a body that protects everything that is inside
- A computer that processes information
- Cameras and instruments that give the rover information about its environment
- An arm and a “hand”, so it can collect rock to study them
- Wheels and “legs” so it can move steadily
- Energy and a reactor
- internal heaters, a layer of insulation, and more temperature control
- a mast for the cameras to give the rover a human-scale view
- https://Mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/spacecraft/launch-vehicle/summary/ https://Mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/spacecraft/launch-vehicle/stage-1/