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Robots on Mars

Technology has played an important role in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics. Most notably, rovers – robotic autonomous exploration vehicles – can be used to examine territory on other planets such as Mars. This is because they have wheels and hence can move around to different spots once landing on Mars, helping scientists study the different chemicals making up the different rocks on Mars.


Currently, there are six Mars rovers that are robotically operated; the first five are operated by NASA JPL whilst the sixth is operated by the China National Space Administration.

  • Sojourner (1997)

  • Opportunity (2004)

  • Spirit (2004)

  • Curiosity (2012)

  • Perseverance (2021)

  • Zhurong (2021)



Technological Features

Rovers are machinery equipped with software that enables rovers to receive navigational instructions and drive autonomously. In addition, they investigate the geology and mineralogy of Mars using panoramic cameras, rock abrasion tools, spectrometers, and microscopic imagers. They have solar panels to power the vehicle and “rocker-bogie suspension” systems in each wheel.


How it Works

Each rover is given a set of instructions at the beginning of each sol (a complete martian day). They instruct the rover to move to specific areas of study, and rovers can even perform science experiments as a result. This is done by taking close-up pictures and analysing the minerals and chemicals in the rocks and soil. Such technology has therefore made significant contributions to the study of Mars’ geology.


Problems

However, one major problem is the communication time delay between Earth and Mars – according to NASA, this is about 20 minutes on average. Thus, drivers are unable to send off quick commands for instance to prevent rovers from crashing into rocks.



Sources

https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/mars-rovers/en/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_rover

https://mars.nasa.gov/mer/mission/timeline/surfaceops/

https://spectrum.ieee.org/planetary-rovers-are-we-alone

Image 1 Source: https://www.alten-germany.de/en/2021/05/05/alten-contributes-to-the-mars-exploration-program-of-nasa/

Image 2 Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qqsMjy8Rx0&ab_channel=NASAJetPropulsionLaboratory


Written by Nichapatr (Petch) Lomtakul