Teams of engineers are putting the finishing touches on the Mars 2020 Rover ahead of its mission. But when the exploration vehicle launches towards the red planet in two years, it won't be the first, or the last, NASA project a San Diego-based company has helped.
Malin Space Science Systems helped make history when their cameras, built and operated from San Diego, launched into space attached to the Mars Global Surveyor in 1996 and captured photos of the planet as never seen before.
"I mean you write these proposals and you say 'I will discover this and I will discover this,' but the interesting things were the things we found that no one had ever suspected before," said the company's advanced projects manager, Michael Ravine.
The company currently has cameras orbiting Earth's moon and Mars and is in production on small cameras that will be attached to the 2020 rover. The product will be shipped to NASA sometime in early 2019, the company said.
Next, Malin Space Science Systems will be building cameras for NASA's Lucy Project, a daring exploration that will examine two swarms of asteroids that travel on Jupiter's orbit around the sun, called Trojans.
According to NASA, the asteroids may be remnants of material that formed planets and could provide insight into the solar system's birth 4 billion years ago.
Just like the project's namesake, the fossilized human which provided insight into human evolution, NASA hopes Lucy will provide knowledge of the solar system's origin.
Lucy will launch late 2021 and will complete a 12-year journey, launching to one set of asteroids and then slingshotting around Earth to reach the second group.
"This is like little pieces leftover from all the other planets forming so this is our chance to see what the original pieces looked like before they collapsed together and formed things that look like Jupiter and Saturn and Uranus and Neptune," Ravine said.
Malin Space Science Systems is also named on two proposals that NASA is considering, including Dragonfly, which would land a nuclear-powered drone on Saturn's largest moon called Titan, and CAESAR, which would grab a piece of a comet before it can burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
CAESAR would be groundbreaking because comets burn up when they hit the earth's atmosphere and no sample has ever survived for exploration.
Ravine said either they would be enthusiastic to work on either project if their bids win.