Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

The building of NASA’s next Mars rover has been given a go-ahead. Launch of the Mars machinery is targeted for the summer of 2020, arriving on the Red Planet in February of 2021.

In the hope of reducing risk and shaving off dollars, the 2020 rover would look much like its six-wheeled, one-ton predecessor, Curiosity, now prowling across the surface of the Red Planet.

But there are differences.

New icomputer generated image of Mars 2020. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

New computer generated image of Mars 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

 

Now hear this

The rover will carry an array of new science instruments and enhancements to explore Mars as never before – including microphones. The Mars 2020 rover will record sounds during the vehicle’s descent to the surface, and also after the landing.

Where to land the NASA Mars 2020 rover? Scientists and engineers gathered at an August workshop to assess where best to land the Red Planet robot. Credit: NASA/JPL

Where to land the NASA Mars 2020 rover? Scientists and engineers are assessing where best to land the Red Planet robot.
Credit: NASA/JPL

As was the case for getting the Curiosity rover down safe and sound, the 2020 rover will use the same “sky crane” landing system. Yes, another seven minutes of terror!

But thanks to the microphones, along with a suite of cameras, never-before-seen imagery and sounds will be captured of the entry, descent and landing (EDL) sequence.

Viewed as a public outreach tool, a microphone should hear the rover’s aluminum wheels rolling over rocks. The device should also prove useful in providing engineering information to ground controllers back on Earth.

One leading landing site - Jezero. Credit: Mars Landing Site Steering Committee/T. Goudge, et al.

One leading landing site – Jezero Crater paleolake.
Credit: Mars Landing Site Steering Committee/T. Goudge, et al.

 

 

Targeted landing zone

The Mars 2020 rover mission will have the ability to land in more challenging terrain thanks to two enhancements:

  • A “range trigger” for timing of parachute opening; and
  • Terrain-relative navigation that uses onboard analysis of downward-looking images taken during descent, matching them to a map that indicates zones designated unsafe for landing.

These capabilities should lead to shrinking any targeted landing zone by nearly half. Also, the rover can plop down closer to a specific science destination, adding up to less driving after landing.

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is to seek signs of past life on Mars, collect and store a set of soil and rock samples that could be returned to Earth in the future. Shown here is an artistic representation of the robot’s SuperCam instrument during operation. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is to seek signs of past life on Mars, collect and store a set of soil and rock samples that could be returned to Earth in the future. Shown here is an artistic representation of the robot’s SuperCam instrument during operation.
Credit: NASA

Sample collection

The Mars 2020 rover mission is designed to look for signs of past life in a region of Mars where the ancient environment was favorable for microbial life.

A unique task is for the robot to collect samples of Martian rock and soil, cache those specimens for pick-up and delivery back to Earth by a potential future mission.

Martian rocks and soil are to be sampled using a coring drill on the rover’s robotic arm. Samples are to be deposited into a rack of sample tubes. Once the samples have been hermetically sealed, about 30 of the tubes will be deposited on the ground at select locations as returnable caches for a possible future sample-retrieval mission.

Rover MOXIE

Also on tap is a first investigation on Mars into use of Martian resources to meet the needs of future human expeditions to the Red Planet.

Credit: NASA/JPL/MIT

Credit: NASA/JPL/MIT

That device is called the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment or MOXIE for short.

MOXIE will extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, which is mostly carbon dioxide. Oxygen could serve in propulsion for a crew’s trip home, as well as for breathing.

MOXIE collects CO2 from the Martian atmosphere, compresses and stores it, then electrochemically splits the CO2 molecules into O2 and CO. The O2 is then analyzed for purity before being vented back out to the Mars atmosphere along with the CO and other exhaust products.

Human working with robot on Mars. Credit: NASA

Human working with robot on Mars.
Credit: NASA

 

Sub-surface radar

The intent is that MOXIE will demonstrate an In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technology to enable propellant and consumable oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere, and also characterize atmospheric dust size and morphology to understand its effects on the operation of surface systems.

Another rover-toting technology that’s unique is use of ground-penetrating radar to assess sub-surface geologic structure – perhaps pockets of ice. That resource is expected to be essential in the future to help sustain expeditionary crews on Mars.

To relive seven minutes of terror that Curiosity and the Mars 2020 mission will endure, go to:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/details.php?id=1090

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