NASA installs rock-sampling toolkit on Mars 2020 rover

NASA continues work on its Mars 2020 rover, a vehicle that will be launched on its mission to the Red Planet next summer. Ahead of that launch, the space agency says its scientists are working hard to ensure the rover is ready to land and acquire samples from the planet's surface that'll eventually be returned to Earth. A key part of that sampling system has been installed on the rover.

According to NASA, the Mars 2020 team has installed the bit carousel on the upcoming rover, a key component that will enable it to take different types of samples from the Martian surface. This bit carousel, as its name suggests, features different types of drill bits that can maneuver the right bit into place for various tasks.

Six of the nine drill bits located in the bit carousel are designed for coring, while another two are used for abrading and one is used for regolith, which is drilling a mix of soil and rock. The abrader, NASA explains, will be used to scrape away the top layer of rocks for the purpose of studying unweathered surfaces.

The other bits — the ones for coring and regolith — will be used to put samples in collection tubes, which will be placed inside the bits before they are positioned for drilling. The tube is filled as part of the drilling process, then it is processed and moved into storage in the rover.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, NASA will launch the Mars 2020 rover on July 17, 2020, with the intention of landing it at the Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021. The space agency anticipates spending many months evaluating and 'fine-tuning' the rover ahead of next summer's launch.