Nasa's next Martian rover will select samples to be possibly returned to Earth but won't bring them back itself

Future Martian rover to pave way for human mission

The 2020 Nasa’s Martian rover will carry a selection of advanced instruments to improve understanding of geology of the Red Planet to help future astronauts to utilise local resources.

Building on the engineering legacy of the current Curiosity rover and its parent vehicle Mars Science Laboratory, the 2020 rover will carry seven scientific devices including ground penetrating radar, a unit for experimental production of oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide or a SuperCam for analysis of chemical composition of Martian soil.

The selection of instruments, picked from a pool of 58 proposals submitted by researchers and engineers from around the world in January this year, was announced by Nasa on Thursday.

“The Mars 2020 rover, with these new advanced scientific instruments, including those from our international partners, holds the promise to unlock more mysteries of Mars’ past as revealed in the geological record,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of Nasa's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This mission will further our search for life in the universe and also offer opportunities to advance new capabilities in exploration technology.”

The development of the instruments is expected to cost about $130m (£77m).

One of the main tasks of the 2020 rover will be to select and collect rock and soil samples for a potential future return to Earth.

The researchers hope knowledge gained from the mission would help develop strategies for a possible future manned mission to Mars, allowing the astronauts to utilise local natural resources and mitigate possible environmental hazards.

"The 2020 rover will help answer questions about the Martian environment that astronauts will face and test technologies they need before landing on, exploring and returning from the Red Planet," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at Nasa Headquarters in Washington.

"Mars has resources needed to help sustain life, which can reduce the amount of supplies that human missions will need to carry. Better understanding the Martian dust and weather will be valuable data for planning human Mars missions. Testing ways to extract these resources and understand the environment will help make the pioneering of Mars feasible."

The rover itself will be lowered onto the surface of Mars using a system that was previously proven during the landing of Curiosity. Reusing the technology will enable to cut development cost and minimise a risk of failure.

The 2020 rover, selected by Nasa in 2012, will be preceded to Mars by the Insight mission – a landing module scheduled for launch in 2016 and designed to drill deep into the Martian rock to investigate the planet's interior. In 2018, the European ExoMars rover should be dispatched to Mars, however, recent rumours have suggested the mission could be either postponed till 2020 or even cancelled due to cost overruns.

The Mars 2020 rover is part of Nasa's Mars Exploration Program, which includes the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, the Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft currently orbiting the planet, and the MAVEN orbiter, which is set to arrive at the Red Planet in September to study the Martian upper atmosphere.

Nasa's Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential. In parallel, Nasa is developing the human spaceflight capabilities needed for future round-trip missions to Mars.

The 2020 rover will be built and managed by Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who is also in charge of Curiosity’s operations.

 

Prior to the Nasa's 2020 rover, Europe's ExoMars spacecraft is expected to land on Mars. E&T reporter Tereza Pultarova recently visited facilities of Airbus UK where the rover is being assembled and tested. Watch our video below:

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