NASA announced on 31 July 2014 at its headquarters in Washington, US, that it will send a new rover to Mars in 2020 named as Mars 2020 rover mission. Mars 2020 mission will attempt to determine the potential habitability of the Mars environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life. This attempt if successful will pave the way for future manned missions.
The Mars 2020 rover mission will be launched in July or August 2020, which will land on mars after an eight to nine month cruise in 2021. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will build and manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover mission.
To develop Mars 2020 rover mission, NASA's Space Technology Program partnered with Human Exploration and the Mars 2020 Rover Team. It is being developed to fulfill the science objectives recommended by the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey.
The MARS 2020 mission rover will be based on the design of the successful rover, Curiosity that is operational since it landed on the Red Planet in August 2012 and is a part of the NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
Importance of the Mars 2020 rover mission
• It will be used by scientists to identify and select a collection of rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth by a future mission.
• It also will help advance our knowledge of how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet.
• Designers of future human expeditions can use this mission to understand the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate technology to process carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen. These experiments will help engineers learn how to use Martian resources to produce oxygen for human respiration and potentially for use as an oxidizer for rocket fuel.
Seven Payloads to be carried by the Mars 2020 rover mission
These seven instruments were selected from 58 proposals received in January 2014 from researchers and engineers worldwide. These seven selected proposals will cost approximately 130 million US dollar for development of the instruments to NASA.
• The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) – It is an exploration technology investigation and will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. This produced oxygen on Mars will be beneficial for human respiration and potentially can be used as an oxidizer for rocket fuel for return missions.
• Mastcam-Z – it is an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. IT is also capable of determine mineralogy of the Martain surface
• SuperCam – it as an instrument will provide imaging, chemical composition analysis and mineralogy. It will also detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance.
• Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) – it is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and will also contain a high resolution imager that can determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. This instrument is capable to provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before.
• Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) – It is a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and will use an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload.
• Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) – This a set of sensors and that is capable of providing measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape.
• The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX) – It is ground-penetrating radar and will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface.
About Mars Exploration Program
Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential. It includes the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, the Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft currently orbiting the planet, and the MAVEN orbiter, which is set to arrive at the Red Planet in September 2014 and will study the Martian upper atmosphere.
In 2016, a Mars lander mission called InSight will launch to take the first look into the deep interior of Mars.
Besides, NASA is collaborating with European Space Agency's (ESA's) 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions. This includes Electra telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 orbiter and a critical element of the astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.
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