TECH
10/07/2013 06:15 BST

2020 Nasa Mars Rover Mission Will Hunt For Life (And Send Samples Back To Earth)

Having two rovers on the surface of Mars discovering incredible things has not stopped Nasa from thinking about the next step in the hunt for life on the red planet.

The space agency's Science Definition Team (SDT) is already planning the next project to send another rover in 2020.

While the exact criteria of the mission is still under consideration, a number potential objectives have been outlined.

rover

Artist's concept sketch for the next Rover with a very similar look to Opportunity

The next rover's focus would certainly be on finding evidence of past life on Mars, or as the SDT put it, an "astrobiologically relevant ancient environment".

A crucial difference between the next mission and current ones would be the attempt to obtain geologic samples to return to Earth for examination.

The Curiosity rover currently on Mars does contain a highly sophisticated onboard laboratory but much more information could be gleaned if rocks could be transported back.

mars

Additionally samples could be re-examined as technology develops. Scientists continue to make discoveries on Moon samples brought back decades ago by the Apollo missions.

The new rover is likely to be similar to Curiosity in terms of its chassis and the 'sky-crane' landing system.

Nasa said basing the new, $1.5 billion robot on Curiosity's "architecture" would help keep costs low.

The major difference would be in the technology carried on board and it would drill cores in the rock rather than collect powdered samples.

Nasa has come under strict budget pressure in recent years, and is increasingly turning to private companies to supply its International Space Station and other key mission requirements.