NASA has incorporated the bit carousel containing all of the tools the coring drill uses to sample the Martian surface into the Mars 2020 rover. It is a mechanism that will play a key role in the acquisition, containment and eventual return to Earth of humanity’s first samples from another planet, NASA said.
Mars 2020 will land on Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. JPL’s John McNamee, project manager of Mars 2020 said that the bit carousel was the last piece of the Mars 2020 rover’s Sample Caching System to be installed. The carousel is a gateway for the Martian samples to move into the rover for assessment and processing and it contains all of the tools the coring drill uses to take the samples.
NASA will use Mars 2020 and other missions, including to the Moon, to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. As of now, “months of evaluation and fine-tuning lie ahead to make absolutely certain this rover is on the launch pad and ready to go on July 17, 2020,” McNamee said. JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters.
NASA says that the bit carousel of Mars 2020 rover looks like an extraterrestrial version of a 1960s slide projector. It carries nine drill bits that will facilitate sample acquisition and surface analysis. Two drills bits are for abrading, one is for regolith (rock and soil) and remaining six are for coring. The coring and regolith bits are used to place Martian samples in a clean sample collection tube, while the abrader bit is used to scrape the top layers of rocks to expose un-weathered surfaces for study.
“The bit carousel is at the heart of the sampling and caching subsystem,” said Keith Rosette, Mars 2020 sample handling delivery manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It contains all of the tools the coring drill uses to sample the Martian surface and is the gateway for the samples to move into the rover for assessment and processing.”
The bit carousel comes into action as soon as the Mars 2020 rover gets ready to drill on the Martian surface. “If, for instance, the goal is to abrade, the carousel manoeuvres the appropriate bit into position so that the drill at the end of the rover’s robotic arm can extract it. Once the drilling is done, the bit goes back into the carousel,” NASA said.
“For core sampling, a sample tube is inserted inside the appropriate bit before the carousel moves the combination into position for the drill. Once the sample tube has been filled, the robotic arm returns the drill bit and tube to the carousel, where they wend their way to processing stations and storage,” NASA added.