Mars’ 2020 Rover, Goals and Instruments Announced by NASA

The Mars 2020 Rover, artists drawing of where each of the seven instruments will be located.  Image Credit: NASA

The Mars 2020 Rover, artists drawing of where each of the seven instruments will be located.
Image Credit: NASA

A panel of scientists assembled today at NASA headquarters to announce, via NASA Television, the seven carefully selected instruments that are to be included on the 2020 Rover to Mars. The panel included:

  • John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate
  • Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Directorate
  • Michael Meyer, lead scientist, Mars Exploration Program
  • Ellen Stofan, NASA chief scientist

There are four main goals for the next Martian endeavor. The devices, which will accompany the rover, have been specifically selected to aid in reaching the mission objectives. These include: making the necessary progress to eventually bring humans to the red planet, identifying and studying a specific region of the planet in detail, to look for biosignatures that indicate past or present life, and to core and cache rock sample for future delivery back to Earth.

As of now NASA is working with over fifty institutions world-wide, planning and implementing the technology needed for our next visit to Mars. Present, NASA has only defined the suite of instruments and objectives for the 2020 Rover. Within the next year (by May 2015) they hope to have the regulations and technicalities hammered out.

Even though the 2020 Rover will be about the same size as Curiosity, scientists are excited about its souped-up technologies. The landing mass of the rover will be less than one metric ton with about 40 kilograms of scientific instruments (as compared to Curiosity’s 74 kilograms worth of gadgets).

NASA headquarters have announced that the landing mechanism will be the same in 2020 as it was for Curiosity. A Sky Crane will be used for safe landing.

Here now are a list of the instruments and how each is will aid in achieving the stated goals set forth by NASA:

MASTCAM-Z will have the most advanced zooming capabilities yet on Mars. It will contain twelve filters that will be able to use binocular vision giving it the ability for multispectral imaging. It will be equipped for rapid terrain modeling, allowing the rover to choose a safe landing spot from further distances than Curiosity could. It will also allow for more precise panoramic and close up photography, making the task easier for selecting a region for detailed study.

SuperCam has been designed to be the next step in laser induced mass spectroscopy. It will be able to identify elements and minerals within rocks with a simple shot of a laser (532 nm wavelength). It will be this device that will allow remote sensing and will hopefully be able to detect organic materials in the search for life on Mars.

MOXIE (The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment) is perhaps the most exciting instrument to be included. It is the first step in taking the carbon dioxide abundant in Mars’ atmosphere, breaking it apart, and creating pure oxygen. This is an absolutely necessary technology to master if we ever hope to get humans on Mars. The oxygen could be used to create an artificial atmosphere capable for extended human habitation, as well as to make rocket fuel for voyages between planets.

MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) will provide a detailed description of Mars’ weather. It will be able to measure temperature, humidity and wind speed, atmospheric pressure, and dust analysis. It will be designed to help MOXIE.

RIMFAX (The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Exploration) will provide ground-penetrating radar down to half a kilometer beneath the surface. This will allow for detailed imaging of geological features that scientists may or may not wish to dig down to examine, it will also be useful for identifying underground water sources (if there are any).

PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) is one of two arm-mounted instruments designed to provide fine scaled mineralogical study. It will be used in the search for microbial life. Using X-rays it will be able to deliver the most detailed chemical analysis of Martian rocks to date.

SherLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) is the second of the two arm-mounted devices. Like its counterpart its job is to detect mineral composition. It will use ultra violet lasers to probe rocks for organic life.

Michael Meyer stated in the press conference that each of the instruments involved have been wisely selected to work with each other. Each will offer advancements on technologies already implanted on Curiosity, or they are new tools never yet used on Mars.

The 2020 Rover is the next big leap in understanding Mars. It aims at increasing our knowledge of the two most fundamental human questions; can humans leave Earth and live on another planet, and are we the only form of life within the universe? Great discoveries are sure to come!