The web page for the Mars 2020 mission has a countdown clock of nearly 500 days until launch. For much of the time until then, the rover will spend its days in a cleanroom at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, before being sent to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final assembly and testing before its ascent into space.
Like its predecessors, Curiosity and the recently lost Opportunity, the Mars 2020 rover will explore the surface of the Red Planet. All of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers must comply with requirements that state that they must carry no more than 300,000 bacterial spores on any of their surfaces that could result in spores getting into the Martian environment. Spacecraft surfaces, while under construction and testing in the cleanroom facility, need to be frequently wiped down with an alcohol solution and must also undergo microbiology tests in order to be certain that they are biologically clean. High-temperature components of the spacecraft, such as their parachute and thermal blanketing, need to be heated to at least 230 degrees in order to kill microbes.
The rovers’ core boxes, which house the main computer and other vital electronic components, are sealed. They are also vented through high-efficiency filters designed to retain any microbes inside—this practice is also used for some of the smaller electronics compartments associated with the spacecrafts.
Curiosity and the Mars 2020 rover won’t be by themselves for long … the European Space Agency and the Russian State Space Corporation, Roscosmos, are working on their own Mars rover. The Rosalind Franklin will reach Mars in 2021, equipped with a drill capable of going down two meters into the surface to sample the soil, inspect its composition and look for evidence of possible past (or current) life. The Rosalind Franklin is being built in a cleanroom at the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Stevenage, England. A model of the craft is currently exploring the Atacama Desert in Chile, piloted by its mission control in the U.K. The exercise’s team of scientists and engineers is putting the rover through simulations of challenges it will face on Mars, such as delays in communication and local weather conditions.