Mars rovers are a fan favorite when it comes to space exploration—we love them, we name them, and we identify with their bold personalities. But how do these rovers accomplish their missions? We must look inside the rover—at the guts. That's where Maxar capabilities help NASA achieve its ambitious mission for exploring the red planet.

Enabling deep space exploration is one of our many areas of expertise at Maxar. We’ve built robotic arms for five previous successful NASA Mars missions, including the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers as well as the Phoenix and InSight landers. Now, on February 18, after six-and-a-half months of traveling and the infamous seven minutes of terror, NASA’s Perseverance Rover will bring a sixth Maxar robotic arm to Mars!

The combination of securing samples while also maintaining unprecedented biological cleanliness to protect the sample from possible Earth-based contamination makes the Sample Caching System the most complex integrated robotic subsystem ever built for Mars. Video Credit: NASA

Perseverance will investigate a site on Mars that is thought to have once been habitable. The rover will search for signs of livable conditions and microbial life from the ancient past.

However, the Maxar influence isn’t immediately obvious by simply looking at Perseverance. To see Maxar’s work you need to peer inside our resilient rover.

Maxar’s Sample Handling Assembly (SHA) robotic arm and the rover’s camera focus system are two key internal mechanisms that will enable this exploration.

The SHA robotic arm is attached under the forward end of Perseverance. The arm is part of a Sample Caching System that will manipulate, assess, encapsulate, store and release collected Martian soil and rock samples.

A closeup look at Maxar’s SHA robotic arm on the bottom side of the Perseverance Rover. Photo Credit: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

But how does this all work?

There are three robots needed to enable the sample and caching systems. First, there’s a large arm at the front of the rover that pushes a drill against the surface of Mars, allowing NASA to collect core samples. Next, the core samples are placed on a bit carousel and a second robot takes the sample and move it through storage and documentation stations inside the rover. Then comes the most delicate part: the placement, measuring and securing of the core samples.

Maxar’s SHA robotic arm completes the second and third phases described above. It takes the Martian materials out of the bit carousel and moves them through volume-assessment, image-taking and eventually, to sealing. It then replaces the cylinder containing the sample in a storage spot, all on its own, in the matter of a few hours.

Our robotic arm will have the final “touch” on these precious samples before hermetically sealing them in sterile, clean vessels, not to be opened until an eventual historic return to Earth.

In addition to the SHA robotic arm, Maxar also built Perseverance’s camera focus system, part of the SHERLOC instrument and WATSON imager, which will support this mission by enabling the rover to identify promising samples on the surface of Mars.

This system is seven years in the making, and we hope you will join our whole team to cheer on Perseverance as it attempts the most difficult landing ever done on Mars.

NASA will stream landing coverage from Mission Control on February 18 starting at 11:15 a.m. PST / 2:15 p.m. EST. Landing is set for approximately 3:55 p.m. EST.

Click here to learn more about Maxar’s industry-leading robotic arm and in-orbit servicing capabilities.

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