15:26 GMT30 May 2020
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    NASA’s next Mars rover - named Perseverance - is undergoing final assembly and testing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida before its July launch date.

    Even though NASA is experiencing slowdowns due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, Perseverance - a space exploration vehicle designed to move across the surface of Mars - is still considered an essential project and must take off between July 17 and August 5, while Earth and Mars are in favorable orbital positions, according to Astronomy Now. Otherwise, the flight will be delayed until 2022. Perseverance is currently scheduled to launch on July 17 and touch down on Mars on February 18, 2021.

    ​The recent additions to the rover, which is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, include a braking parachute and six wheels. The wheels were constructed out of flight-grade aluminum and titanium spokes and are tougher than the wheels used by Perseverance’s predecessor Curiosity, which was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on November 26, 2011 to explore the red planet as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. 

    According to Phys.org, the wheels are larger in diameter but narrower than Curiosity's and also include new treads. Testing of the treads revealed that they “withstand the pressure from sharp rocks and grip just as well or better than Curiosity’s when driving on sand,” Phys.org reported.

    The process of adding a parachute to Perseverance’s back shell took several days and was completed on March 26. The parachute will remain in the spacecraft back’s shell until the rover lands on Mars. According to Astronomy Now, the parachute will be deployed at an altitude of 7 miles above the Martian surface and will take about a half-second to inflate to a diameter of 70.5 feet. 

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