NASA is already operating its current Mars rover- Curiosity since 2012. But it seems like NASA wants to upgrade the rover to dig deeper into the secrets of what could give out the evidences of life forms that existed on Mars. Turns out, the space agency is already working on the same at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) situated in Pasadena, California.
The new rover is under development for NASA’s next mission to Mars with an updated set of instruments, new wheels and a new drill to capture rock cores and a caching system with a robotic arm to collect and store the samples. Currently dubbed as ‘Mars 2020’, the mission will see the rover equipped with new cruise stage to fly it out to Mars and new descent- stage- technology for landing. This improvement would reduce the target landing area quite significantly and also prevent it from landing on extremely unsuitable surfaces like peaks and trenches. The technology is included with something that JPL likes to call a “sky crane” which would lower the rover onto the planet’s surface.
Although the rover would look almost the same as the Curiosity, it still has a point. Around 85% of the hardware is either based on, or is exactly the heritage hardware which was used earlier. This usage of similar components will help keep the cost of the mission down, reduces time in development, and also reduces risks in the mission. Despite the hardware, the mission is different from its predecessor. Mars 2020 is designed to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet by studying terrain that’s now unable to sustain life, but probably had lakes and rivers on it in the distant past ( around 3.5 billion years ago). This will be done on a microbial stage. The rover is equipped with an x-ray spectrometer that can target spots as small as a grain of salt, UV lasers to detect carbon atoms, ground-penetrating radar to have a peek under the Martian crust upto 30 feet deep. Not just that, the rover will also include colour cameras, a zoom lens, and a laser that can vapourise rocks and soils for chemical analaysis. The team working on the Mars 2020 has identified three major areas of examination on the surface of the planet, which are:
A lake bed called Jezero Crater
Northeast Sytris, which once probably held warm waters which reacted with sub-surface rocks
Possible hot spring region in the Columbia Hills.
“Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a proving ground for new technology,” said George Tahu, NASA’s Mars 2020 program executive. “These will gather science data in ways that weren’t possible before.”
NASA scientists are hoping the rover will be able to drill at least 20, and up to 40 rock, cores for later collection and analysis by future missions. All of this is being done with an eye toward focusing future Mars missions and to get a step closer to answering the question, “Are we alone?”
NASA Begins Building Next Mars Rover Mission
Video Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory