NASA’s newest mars rover, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will be nuclear powered, the size of a small truck, and designed specifically to find life on Mars. It will also be armed with a powerful laser, to blast interesting rocks and see what’s inside them. “Curiosity”, as it is unofficially named, was originally scheduled for launch last year, before rigorous testing uncovered possible flaws in the design of the actuators which drive the wheels and its robotic arm. Now, however, the redesigns are complete, and the components have passed the Two-Times Life test in which the components are worked and punished to inflict a level of wear-and-tear that would normally be experienced after twice their intended lifetime. In other words, the MSL’s engineering team want to repeat the amazing success of the Mars Exploration Rovers (Opportunity and Spirit) which were designed to run for a month and a half, yet are still (mostly) working six years later.
The testing has uncovered a few other less serious problem (The hybrid nuclear-solar power plant seems to be running down faster than expected, for example), but these fall within standard last-minute problems on missions of this size. For more information, check the original article at Aviation Week.