The Perseverance rover is heading towards Mars, while NASA has been hard at work on a twin rover that will be used to conduct a series of tests that will offer valuable data that will be used to optimize operational decisions related to Perseverance.
NASA engineers constructed a complete version of the Mars 2020 rover, which includes wheels, advanced camera sensors, and the computers which are responsible for navigation and other tools. After passing at an initial driving test inside a JPL assembly room, the engineering rover is ready for the Mars Yard.
The Mars Yard
As the name may suggest, the Mars Yard is a special field that has been transformed to mimic the surface of the Red Planet as closely as possible, featuring red soil and rocks and other obstacles that can be encountered on the real planet.
The mobility team is looking forward to the upcoming tests as they will have the chance to observe how the rover behaves in simulations of upcoming missions and to learn what adjustments can be made before Perseverance will be deployed and active on the Martian surface.
Since there is little to no way to perform hardware repairs on Mars, it is vital to avoid as many potential incidents as possible. The Vehicle System Test Bed (or VSTB) can be used to evaluate hardware and software components before commands are sent to Perseverance.
A rover wouldn’t be complete without a name of its own, and the team decided to name the test rover OPTIMISM, which is an acronym for Operational Perseverance Twin for Integration of Mechanisms and Instruments Sent to Mars. At the start of 2021, it will receive all of the instruments and tools which are already present on Perseverance.
The Mars 2020 mission is included in a large initiative that also includes crewed missions to the Moon, where a spaceport for more distant missions could be established.