December 1, 2017
This artist's depiction shows NASA's Mars 2020 exploration vehicle studying a rocky outcrop on Mars. The mission is planned not only to search and study an area that has probably been habitable in the distant past, but will take the next bold step in the robotic exploration of the red planet looking for signs of past microbial life. Image and caption Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The rover for NASA's Mars 2020 mission looks a lot like the rover Curiosity currently exploring the surface of Mars. However, it will have a series of improvements and instruments to carry out its search for signs of past microbial life on the Red Planet. A recent NASA press release described the rover as a "trick-or-treat" machine.
If everything goes as planned by the space agency, the rover will have seven new scientific instruments, redesigned wheels and greater autonomy The new rover will also have a drill to extract samples from the rocky core, as well as a caching system to seal these samples and deposit them for a possible return to Earth in a future mission.
"Our next instruments will be based on the success of MSL, which was a testing ground for the new technology," said George Tahu, executive of NASA's Mars 2020 program. "These will collect scientific data in ways that were not possible before."
Hardware for the mission is being developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL ) in Pasadena, California. Both the cruise stage, which will fly the rover through space, and the "crane of the sky" descent stage were recently transferred to the JPL Spacecraft Assembly Facility.
The mission of Mars 2020 will largely depend on replacement systems and hardware for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. About 85 percent of the new rover's mbad is based on what NASA calls "heritage hardware."
"The fact that much of the hardware has already been designed, or already exists, is a great advantage for this mission." said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "It saves us money, time [,] and [,] more than anything, it reduces risk."
The rover is being designed to carry several new scientific instruments to aid in its search for ancient life signs in Mars.The rover will have an X-ray spectrophotometer that can point to spots as small as a grain of sand and an ultraviolet laser that can detect the "glow" of excited rings of carbon atoms. The rover will also be able to see below the surface of Mars using a ground penetrating radar capable of mapping layers of rock, ice and water up to 30 feet (10 meters) below the surface.
The Mars 2020 rover has 23 cameras many of which are improved versions of color-capable cameras carried by Curiosity . The SuperCam instrument in the Mars 2020 rover is Curiosity ChemCam . SuperCam can identify the chemical composition of targets as small as a pencil tip from more than 20 feet (7 meters) away.
"Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a test ground for the new technology," said George Tahu, NASA's Mars 2020 program executive. "These will collect scientific data in ways that were not possible before."
As part of its mission objective to find evidence of past life on Mars, the rover will drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly up to 40, for a possible return to Earth in a later mission.
"If life existed beyond Earth, it is one of the great questions that humans seek to answer," said Ken Farley of JPL, scientist of the Mars 2020 project. "What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address if we are alone in the universe. "
Mars 2020 is scheduled to launch in July or August 2020 on an Atlas V 541 variant of Cape Canaveral Florida Air Force Station. The rover will land on the surface of Mars in February 2021.
Video courtesy of NASA
Tagged: Jet Propulsion Laboratory Main stories Mars 2020 NASA
Jim Sharkey is a laboratory badistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of astronaut Skylab and Shuttle Owen K. Garriott As a young Star Trek fan, he participated in the letter writing campaign that resulted in the space shuttle prototype being called Enterprise.
Although his academic studies ranged from psychology and archeology to biology, he never lost his pbadion for space exploration. Jim started blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004.
Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and has attended NASA's social gatherings for the landing of the Curiosity rover of the Mars Science Laboratory and the launch of NASA's LADEE lunar orbiter.