NASA’s Next Mars Rover Is Going to Be Seriously Badass


Artist’s conceptual picture of the 2020 rover. (Image: NASA/JPL/Caltech)

Should all go in response to plan, NASA will launch its subsequent Martian rover in July 2020. The robotic probe continues to be underneath building, however early indicators are that the next-gen rover might be outfitted with a powerful badortment of high-tech devices.

The rover is at the moment underneath building at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and doesn’t have a reputation but other than “Mars 2020.” Like its predecessors, the longer term rover will scour the Red Planet for indicators of earlier habitability, and conduct scientific badyses of Mars’ geology, ambiance, and different pure phenomena. But not like these rovers that got here earlier than it, this one has a number of extra methods up its metallic sleeve.

As NASA introduced earlier this week, the probe might be outfitted with at least 23 completely different cameras. That’s 13 greater than Spirit and Opportunity, and 6 greater than Curiosity. Of its 23 cameras, 9 might be devoted to engineering duties, seven to science, and one other seven for monitoring the probe’s entry, descent, and touchdown. These “eyes” will permit the probe to create sweeping panoramas, uncover obstacles, and examine Mars in beautiful element. Importantly, these cameras will work in tandem with the various scientific devices onboard.

Image: NASA/JPL/Caltech

During its descent, cameras will snap pictures of the parachute unfurling and because it slowly drifts down onto the planet’s red-stained floor. Once it’s out-and-about, an inner digicam will peer carefully at rock samples. When it’s carried out enjoying lab technician, the robotic will “cache” the samples and deposit them onto the rocky floor for a future mission to gather (sure, this robotic goes to be a litterbug).

The cameras can even present extra shade and 3D imaging than earlier missions. Whereas Curiosity had the Mastcam, the 2020 model will function the Mastcam-z, the place the “z” stands for “zoom.” The cameras can even be capable of badist extra stereoscopic photos, that are good for scanning geological options, badessing distance, and trying to find the subsequent exploration web site from far-off.

The Navcams and Hazcams on the earlier rovers, used for navigating and avoiding hazards, produced 1-megapixel digital photos in black and white. The 2020 variations of those cameras will purchase high-rez 20-megapixel photos in full shade (hallelujah!). These cameras can even be capable of cut back movement blurs, which implies the robotic will be capable of snap photos whereas zipping throughout the Martian floor. And as a result of the lenses might be wider, the 2020 rover will be capable of seize a broader view of the panorama.

“Our previous Navcams would snap multiple pictures and stitch them together,” mentioned JPL’s Colin McKinney in an company launch. “With the wider field of view, we get the same perspective in one shot.”

Now, you is perhaps considering that full shade, 3D-images filmed in high-resolution aren’t a giant deal, but it surely is a giant deal for a robotic positioned 34 million miles away. With all these new devices comes troves of information, which then should be beamed again in the direction of Earth. This added tools represents a irritating limiting issue.

To deal with this, the cameras onboard the 2020 rover will compress the information (which Curiosity does as effectively), however one other resolution might be to make use of orbiting spacecraft as knowledge relays. This concept was first examined throughout the Spirit and Opportunity rover missions, the place NASA used its Mars Odyssey orbiter as an interplanetary relay station. Who says we’re not residing sooner or later?

“We were expecting to do that mission on just tens of megabits each Mars day, or sol,” mentioned mission scientist Justin Maki. “When we got that first Odyssey overflight, and we had about 100 megabits per sol, we realized it was a whole new ballgame.” By “sol,” Maki is referring to a single Martian day, which is 24 hours and 39 minutes lengthy. For the 2020 mission, NASA is planning to make use of spacecraft already in Martian orbit, together with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, and the ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter.

Image: NASA/JPL/Caltech

And that’s simply the cameras. Other proposed scientific devices embody an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to look at Martian floor supplies, a radar imager, a microphone, an ultraviolet spectrometer, and even a Mars Helicopter Scout (HMS)—a two pound photo voltaic powered drone that may buzz above the rover, serving to it to pick out future exploration targets.

The 2020 rover might be accompanied by this aerial drone, known as the Mars Helicopter Scout (HMS). (Image: NASA/JPL/Caltech)

In addition, the brand new rover will function wheels which might be extra sturdy (Curiosity’s are in dangerous form), have higher traction, and have a performance-maximizing form. The 2020 rover can even attempt to produce oxygen from Mars’ carbon-dioxide ambiance, which may set up an essential precedent for the Red Planet’s first colonists.

As to the place the rover will land, that’s nonetheless not recognized. NASA has launched a shortlist of touchdown websites, together with Northeast Syrtis (an space as soon as warmed by volcanic exercise), the Jezero Crater (the remnant of a Martian lake), and Columbia Hills, which NASA’s Spirit lander explored throughout the early-to-mid 2000s.

Regardless of the location chosen, the subsequent mission to Mars goes to be completely sensible.

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