Mars 2020 might not have as catchy a name as Curiosity but what it does represent is a serious upgrade on NASA’s previous mission.
You see one of the main jobs that Mars 2020 is tasked with is to find evidence of ancient life on the red planet.
Using all-new state-of-the-art equipment including new sensors and cameras the rover will study the terrain of Mars that once contained huge rivers and lakes of water some 3.5 billion years ago.
“Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” said Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020′s project scientist. “What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe.”
Mars 2020: Facts And Figures
If Mars 2020 looks very similar to Curiosity then there’s a good reason for that. Over 85% of the chassis has been taken from Curiosity’s designs.
By keeping things the same the team at NASA are able to improve, upgrade and learn from Curiosity while still keeping costs down.
Rover 2020 is car-sized, it’s around 10 feet long, 9 feet wide and around 7 feet tall making it a lot larger than you might think.
Despite its size, it weighs just 1,050 kg which makes it lighter than a Mini Cooper.
Rover 2020 is equipped with 23 cameras which have uses ranging from capturing objects in 3D, seeing further into the distance than ever before and even seeing if an object contains organic material.
In addition to cameras, the new rover comes with a powerful drill and sampling machine attached to a 7 foot robotic arm.
The hope is to take around 20-30 drill cores with some even prepped for a return to Earth.
To help it find alien life, Rover 2020 will come with some truly state-of-the-art sensors including an X-ray spectrometer that can target spots as small as a grain of salt and an ultraviolet laser to detect the glow of excited carbon atoms.
Finally a ground-penetrating radar has been installed which will, for the first time, allow us to see deep below the planet’s surface looking for layers of rock, ice and even water.
Mars 2020 Launch + Landing
Mars 2020 will take off from Earth in July/August 2020 with an expected arrival date at Mars of early 2021.
The team at NASA have narrowed the landing sites down to around three from the eight initially planned.
The three sites include an ancient lakebed called Jezero Crater; Northeast Syrtis, where warm waters may have chemically interacted with subsurface rocks; and a possible hot springs at Columbia Hills.
“In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” explains Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020′s project scientist.
“It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us.”