Monday, 8 September 2014

The 2020 MARS Rover --"Mankind's Most Sophisticated Search for Signs of Life"


The 2020 Mars rover has the overarching goal of seeking the signs of life, following up on the Curiosity rover's discovery at the Gale Crater landing site (above) that Mars could have been habitable billions of years ago. So the focus of the NASA science community is: Where would be the best place on Mars where evidence of life might have been preserved, according to Michael Meyer, NASA's lead scientist for the Mars program. NASA officials have identified more than 50 potential landing spots requested by the scientific community during a workshop held in May. Now, NASA officials working with the rover are going to start investigating those suggestions to see which will be the best fit for the spacecraft and its mission, specifically an area that isn't too rocky or high in altitude.

"This mission, because it's seeking the signs of life and caching samples, it has a different objective than Curiosity had," Meyer said. "Therefore, even though the four landing sites that were in the running — including Gale — are very interesting and top-rated landing sites, they may not be top-rated for Mars 2020."

The 2020 mission will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago, and currently is operating on Mars. The new rover will carry more sophisticated, upgraded hardware and new instruments to conduct geological assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life.

Scientists will use the Mars 2020 rover to identify and select a collection of rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth by a future mission.

The Mars 2020 rover also will help advance our knowledge of how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the Martian land would transform future exploration of the planet. Designers of future human expeditions can use this mission to understand the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate technology to process carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen. These experiments will help engineers learn how to use Martian resources to produce oxygen for human respiration and potentially for use as an oxidizer for rocket fuel.

"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 2020 will carry seven carefully-selected instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet. The payload proposals are:

NASA-Mars-2020-Rover-instrument-selection-PIA18405-br2 (1)

Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The instrument also will determine mineralogy of the Martian surface and assist with rover operations. The principal investigator is James Bell, Arizona State University in Tempe.

SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. The instrument will also be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance.

Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. PIXL will provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before.

Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a spectrom

eter that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload.

The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape.

The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface.

Instruments developed from the selected proposals will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. Using a proven landing system and rover chassis design to deliver these new experiments to Mars will ensure mission costs and risks are minimized as much as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover.

Curiosity recently completed a Martian year on the surface -- 687 Earth days -- having accomplished the mission's main goal of determining whether Mars once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

In 2016, a Mars lander mission called InSight will launch to take the first look into the deep interior of Mars. The agency also is participating in the European Space Agency's (ESA's) 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing "Electra" telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 orbiter and a critical element of the astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

NASA's Mars Exploration Program views 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.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will build and manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/JPL

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