Artist's conception of the next Nasa's Martian rover based on the Curiosity configuration

Nasa's next Martian rover to build on Curiosity's legacy

The next Nasa’s Martian rover set to launch in 2020 will test future technology for human exploration while using Curiosity’s technical configuration to save development costs and reduce risk.

In a 154-page report, released today, Nasa’s Mars 2020 Science Definition Team has introduced the preliminary concept of the next Martian rover. Unlike Curiosity, that represented a major technology challenge and introduced an entirely innovative landing system that perforemed what Nasa famously called “7 minutes of terror” during the lander’s descend, the future Martian probe promises not to take any substantial risks.

Though the team said the rover will potentially aim at advancing several technologies related to the future of manned space flight, the design, size, landing system and most of the rover platform will be built on Curiosity’s architecture.

The car sized rover will be about 3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide and 2.2 meters tall, excluding the robotic arm. With the foreseen launch mass similar to Curiosity’s 531,000kg, the probe is expected to be launched on an Atlas V541- or 551-class rocket.

Apart from serving as a testbed for future technology for human space exploration, the rover will also look for signs of past life and collect samples for future return to Earth.

"Crafting the science and exploration goals is a crucial milestone in preparing for our next major Mars mission," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "The objectives determined by NASA with the input from this team will become the basis later this year for soliciting proposals to provide instruments to be part of the science payload on this exciting step in Mars exploration."

The team's report details how the rover would use its instruments for visual, mineralogical and chemical analysis down to microscopic scale to understand the environment around its landing site and identify biosignatures, or features in the rocks and soil that could have been formed biologically.

"The Mars 2020 mission concept does not presume that life ever existed on Mars," said Jack Mustard, chairman of the Science Definition Team and a professor at the Geological Sciences at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "However, given the recent Curiosity findings, past Martian life seems possible, and we should begin the difficult endeavour of seeking the signs of life. No matter what we learn, we would make significant progress in understanding the circumstances of early life existing on Earth and the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life."

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