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NASA's Next Mars Rover WIll Have Lasers, 'Breathe' CO2 And Pave The Way For Humans

01/08/2014 11:57 BST | Updated 01/08/2014 11:59 BST

NASA only recently landed the massive $2 billion Mars rover Curiosity on the Red Planet, but it's already looking to go one better.

The next Mars rover is scheduled to blast off for the planet by 2020, carrying a range of new scientific equipment with which to explore the surface.

Based on the same structure as the Curiosity rover, it will conduct "unprecedented science and exploration" on Mars, NASA said on Thursday, as it announced the payload for the first time.

They include the first apparatus to 'breathe' CO2 and turn it into Oxygen, and a revolutionary analytical laser.

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"Today we take another important step on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

"While getting to and landing on Mars is hard, Curiosity was an iconic example of how our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way for humans to pioneer Mars and beyond. Mars exploration will be this generation's legacy, and the Mars 2020 rover will be another critical step on humans' journey to the Red Planet."

The main aim of the mission will be to collect rock and soil samples that would be returned to Earth - in theory - by a future mission. It will also look for signs of the Red Planet's mysterious past (including any signs of life) and advance our knowledge of the environment so human explorers might be able to one-day live temporarily on the surface.

The instruments on board will include:

  • Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom.
  • SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy.
  • Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials.
  • Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds.
  • The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape.
  • The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface.

The 2020 mission will follow the arrival of the MAVEN orbiter, set for September this year, the 206 InSight lander mission and the European Space Agency's 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions.