By NASA // November 30, 2017
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Instruments of Mars 2020 to look for signs of ancient life
ABOVE VIDEO: In just a couple of years, NASA's newest rover will fly to Mars. The Mars 2020 mission will use the next generation of landing science and technology to collect rock samples for a possible return on a future mission. ( Video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
NASA – In a few years, NASA's next mission in its Mars rover will fly to the Red Planet.
At first glance, it looks a lot like its predecessor, the Curiosity Mars Rover. But there is no doubt that it is a tricky science machine: it has seven new instruments, redesigned wheels and more autonomy. A drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal these samples. Then, they will be deposited on the Martian surface for a possible mission in the future.
This new hardware is being developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages the mission of the agency. It includes the cruise stage of the Mars 2020 mission, which will fly the rover through space, and the descent stage, a "sky crane" propelled by rockets that will lower it to the planet's surface. Both stages have recently moved to the JPL spacecraft badembly facility.
Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for the Curiosity rover from the Mars Science Laboratory, which landed in 2012. Approximately 85 percent of the mbad of the new rover based on this " patrimonial 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, above all, reduces the risk".
The representation of this artist shows the explorer vehicle of NASA Mars 2020 that studies an exit to the Martian rock. The mission will not only search and study an area that has probably been habitable in the distant past, but will also take the next bold step in the robotic exploration of the red planet looking for signs of past microbial life. (Image from NASA)
Despite its similarities to the Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different objectives.
The instruments of Mars 2020 will look for signs of ancient life by studying the land that is now inhospitable, but once had rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.
To achieve these new objectives, the rover has a set of cutting-edge scientific instruments. It will look for bioforms on a microbial scale: an X-ray spectrometer will focus on spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the "glow" of the excited rings of the carbon atoms. A ground penetrating radar will be the first instrument to be seen beneath the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 30 feet (10 meters) deep, depending on the material.
The rover is getting better Curious hardware, including color cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporize rocks and soil to badyze its chemistry.
"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."
The mission will also conduct a marathon search of samples: the rover team will attempt to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly up to 30 or 40, for a possible future return to Earth.
"If life ever existed beyond Earth, it is one of the great questions that humans try to answer," said Ken Farley of JPL, a scientist on 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. "
JPL is also developing a new crucial landing technology called relative ground navigation. As the descent stage approaches the Martian surface, it will use computer vision to compare the landscape with pre-installed terrain maps. This technology will guide the descent stage towards safe landing sites, correcting their course on the road.
The concept of this artist represents NASA's Mars 2020 exploration vehicle that explores Mars. The mission will not only search and study an area that has probably been habitable in the distant past, but will also take the next bold step in the robotic exploration of the red planet looking for signs of past microbial life. (Image from NASA)
A related technology called a range trigger will use location and speed to determine when to fire the spacecraft's parachute. That change will reduce the landing ellipse by more than 50 percent.
"Relative navigation allows us to go to sites that were considered too risky for Curiosity to explore," said JPL's Al Chen, entry of Mars 2020, landing and lead landing. "The range trigger allows us to land closer to areas of scientific interest, eliminating miles, potentially up to a year, from rover travel."
This approach to minimize landing errors will be critical in guiding any future mission dedicated to recovering samples from Mars 2020, Chen said.
The selection of the site has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the scientific community reduced the list of possible landing sites from eight to three.
These three remaining sites represent fundamentally different environments that could have harbored primitive life: an ancient lakebed called the Jezero crater; Northeast Syrtis, where the warm waters may have interacted chemically with the rocks of the subsoil; and a possible hot spring in the Columbia Hills.
All three sites have a rich geology and may harbor signs of past microbial life. A final decision on the landing site is still more than a year away.
"In the coming years, the 2020 science team will take into account the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites," said Farley. "It is by far the most important decision we have ahead."
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