The Mars 2020 rover has just received the go-ahead to commence fueling using a nuclear battery for powering the spacecraft and making sure that it remains warm. Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA has said that starting of fueling means that the progression of the Mars 2020 rover project is on schedule.
He has said that the decision to fuel the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator of MMRTG is an ‘important milestone’ for remaining on track for the July 2020 launch. By making use of a nuclear battery, the MMRTG will be able to deliver 110 watts of electrical power to the Mars 2020 rover along with the science instruments. Any excess heat from the generator will be used for keeping the spacecraft warm.
MMRTG operates by carrying out the conversion of the decay of radioisotope materials into electricity. The generator is comprised of a heat source that has plutonium-238 and thermocouples that do the conversion of decay heat energy to electricity. Project Manager John McNamee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, ‘We are advancing on all fronts – including completion of the cruise stage that will guide us to Mars and the sky crane descent landing system that will gently lower us to the surface. And the rover is not only looking more and more like a rover each day, but it’s also acting like one.’
This is not the first time that NASA has employed the use of radioisotope power. It has been used in 27 past space mission of the US including the Viking missions on Mars and the New Horizons spacecraft that recently made its way past Pluto. As per the reports, the interior of the Mars 2020 rover has been completed while the exterior of the spacecraft is still undergoing construction.
Zurbuchen said, ‘The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology. Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life.’ We have our fingers crossed for the Mars 2020 project.