NASA made an announcement this week that they are working on the next version of its Curiosity Mars rover. Same look as its predecessor, different mission.
The Mars 2020 rover will be the advanced version of its predecessor that touched down on the Red Planet in August 2012.
However, the new probe is more like a planet-hunting rover. Its mission is to find evidence of ancient life on the red planet.
“Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” Mars 2020 project scientist Ken Farley, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe.”
Engineers will use almost the same design in the new rover because they want to save time and money. However, the Mars 2020 rover will have more advanced navigation and imaging systems.
The rover will look for signs of microbial life using tools such as an x-ray spectrometer that can look for spots the size of a grain of table salt. And for a more precise investigation, it will use a laser to excite carbon atoms on the surface.
Engineers have also attached a ground-penetrating radar which will extend up to 33 feet (10 meters) below the surface. Thus, studying the distribution of water, rock, and ice.
The new rover will also carry improved versions of some Curiosity gear, including a zoom lens, several color cameras and a laser that can evaporate soil and rocks to look at their chemistry.
Also, Mars 2020 will use location and velocity data to figure out when to deploy its main parachute.
Mars 2020 will also have a range trigger, which will use location and velocity data
“Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a proving ground for new technology,” Mars 2020 program executive George Tahu, of NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in the same statement. “These will gather science data in ways that weren’t possible before.”
NASA says the “site selection has been another milestone for the mission”. In February of this year, scientists have narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three. Because of the new rover’s life-hunting mission, the three remaining sites represent environments that could have harbored primitive life.
“In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” Farley said. “It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us.”
Thumbnail image: An artist’s rendition of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover studying a Mars rock outcrop. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech