The new and improved mission includes improved wheels, improved camera features and a built-in drill designed to collect rock cores. An integrated robotic arm will cover samples of rocky cores that a future Mars rover will bring back to Earth. The mission aims to drill a minimum of 20 rocky cores, providing scientific data that were previously not available for badysis.
In addition to the mechanical improvements, the mission has seven new instruments that allow it to enter a territory considered dangerous for the previous rovers. Mars 2020 will have the capacity to inspect surface areas that are believed to have held water bodies, such as lakes and rivers, some 3.5 billion years ago. The badysis of the unexplored surfaces will help the scientists to approach the always lit question: Is there evidence of ancient life on Mars?
"If life ever existed beyond Earth, it is one of the great questions that humans seek to answer," said Ken Farley, JPL Mars Project Scientist, in a press release. "What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address if we are alone in the universe."
To help answer this question, the mission has high-tech instruments designed to detect small-scale bioforms that could remain on and below the surface of Mars. Your ultraviolet laser has the power to identify active carbon atoms, while your X-ray spectrometer can identify salt-sized objects. The rover also has a radar with penetration capabilities that, depending on the topography, can inspect water, ice and rocky terrain up to 30 feet (10 meters) deep, giving us a look below the surface of Mars for the first time time.
NASA has also designed two new landing technologies for Mars 2020, called relative ground navigation and range triggering, which will facilitate its descent to the Red Planet and increase the accuracy of landing. The rank tripper will collect speed and location information to establish the optimal moment to release the parachute from the mission, increasing the accuracy of the landing destination by more than 50 percent. The relative navigation will coincide with the computer's view of the rover with pre-generated maps of the surface of Mars to ensure safe landing conditions, making corrections to the landing destination as necessary.
"The relative navigation of the terrain allows us to go to sites that were considered too risky for Curiosity to explore," said Al Chen, head of landing and descent of Mars 2020 at JPL. "The range trigger allows us to land closer to areas of scientific interest, shaving miles, potentially up to a year, from a rover's journey."
Although the specific landing site for Mars 2020 has yet to be determined, three strong contenders, all possibly fostering previous microbial life, are in the running: the potential spring in Columbia Hills, the former lake bed known as Jezero Crater, and the place of possible chemical interactions between water and underground rocks in Northeast Syrtis. NASA indicates that the final landing site is the most important decision they face with the Mars 2020 mission, and a final decision is not expected for more than a year.
Regardless of the landing site chosen, the enhanced instruments and advanced technologies on Mars 2020 have the potential to provide us with new scientific data, and possibly stimulate our wonder for extraterrestrial life.