Planning for NASA's 2020 Mars rover envisions a basic structure that capitalizes on re-using the design and engineering work done for the NASA rover Curiosity.
The rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 should look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the Red Planet, according to a report provided to the agency.
The 154-page document was prepared by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team, which NASA appointed in January to outline scientific objectives for the mission. The team, composed of 19 scientists and engineers from universities and research organizations, proposed a mission concept that could accomplish several high-priority planetary science goals and be a major step in meeting President Obama's challenge to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.
"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."
NASA will conduct an open competition for the payload and science instruments. They will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity, which landed on Mars almost a year ago. Using Curiosity's design will help minimize mission costs and risks and deliver a rover that can accomplish the mission objectives.
The 2020 mission proposed by the Science Definition Team would build upon the accomplishments of Curiosity and other Mars missions. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers, along with several orbiters, found evidence Mars has a watery history. Curiosity recently confirmed that past environmental conditions on Mars could have supported living microbes. According to the Science Definition Team, looking for signs of past life is the next logical step.
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 endeavor 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 extraterrestrial life."
The measurements needed to explore a site on Mars to interpret ancient habitability and the potential for preserved biosignatures are identical to those needed to select and cache samples for future return to Earth. The Science Definition Team is proposing the rover collect and package as many as 31 samples of rock cores and soil for a later mission to bring back for more definitive analysis in laboratories on Earth. The science conducted by the rover's instruments would expand our knowledge of Mars and provide the context needed to make wise decisions about whether to return the samples to Earth.
"The Mars 2020 mission will provide a unique capability to address the major questions of habitability and life in the solar system," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington. "This mission represents a major step towards creating high-value sampling and interrogation methods, as part of a broader strategy for sample returns by planetary missions."
Samples collected and analyzed by the rover will help inform future human exploration missions to Mars. The rover could make measurements and technology demonstrations to help designers of a human expedition understand any hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate how to collect carbon dioxide, which could be a resource for making oxygen and rocket fuel. Improved precision landing technology that enhances the scientific value of robotic missions also will be critical for eventual human exploration on the surface.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages NASA's Mars Exploration Program for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
NASA Touts 2020 Mars Rover's Scientific Gear
NASA has announced the 2020 Mars rover's loadout of scientific instruments, and it's clear that the focus is on both detecting life and evaluating the possibility of future colonization. The 2020 rover, which is yet to be officially named, will carry seven major devices or clusters of sensors, several of which have catchy acronyms or abbreviations: SHERLOC, MOXIE, PIXL. The focus of these various cameras and sensors is to get readings of unprecedented accuracy on the composition, structure and ORIGIN of the Martian surface.
X-Ray spectroscopy will determine elemental composition of nearby rocks and dust, while a UV laser and other sensors will watch for organic compounds. Meanwhile, a ground-penetrating radar will give an idea of subterranean structures — in case of underground waterways (or TUNNELS dug by Red Planet residents). And an experimental technology will demonstrate the ability to turn Martian carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen — useful for both propulsion and breathing. NASA's Mars Mission website has more information on the new instruments, from their capabilities to their origins and operators. In addition, more landers and ORBITERS are planned for the meantime.
Mars 2020 Rover Instrument Suite Chosen by NASA To Search for Past Life and Prepare for Human Explorers
The advanced science payload package that will launch on NASA’s next car sized rover to the Red Planet in 2020 on a ground breaking mission seeking signs of past life while also testing key technology to prepare for future human explorers, was announced by NASA managers today, Thursday, July 31, in a media briefing at the space agency’s headquarters in Washington.
The ambitious and innovative Mars 2020 rover instruments include the first camera with a zoom lens capable of 3-D imaging, ground penetrating radar, lasers, an investigation to produce oxygen usable as rocket fuel and for humans to breathe, a WEATHER STATION and a rock sample caching system for retrieval and return to Earth by an undefined future mission.
The instruments will work in concert as much as feasible in examining rocks to give scientists the best chance of finding organic molecules, looking for direct evidence of ancient life and searching for minerals that are indicative of a habitable zone that could support microbial life in the past or even today, if it exists.
A science suite of seven high powered instruments was selected for development and integration onto the Mars 2020 rover from a COMPETITION that drew 58 proposals from science and engineering teams worldwide – double the usual number and exemplifying a deep interest in robotic exploration by the science community.
All the proposals were submitted by January 2014 and have since been evaluated and scrutinized by NASA management to meet the twin challenge of producing the best possible science to search for organic molecules as precursors to life while simultaneously advancing the goal of humans to Mars by testing technology for using the planets own natural resources to enable future astronauts expeditions as early as the 2030s.
“The 2020 Mars rover will build on the science from Curiosity and other Mars missions,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the briefing.
“The rover carries innovative new instruments to look for signs of past life. Unless we try hard things we will NEVER advance.”
The seven WINNING instruments will conduct an unprecedented combination of science and technology investigations furthering the search for life and helping to enable manned missions to the Red Planet.
“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.”
Two instruments will be located on the mast (Mastcam-Z and Supercam), three on the rover body (MOXIE, MEDA and RIMFAX) and two more on the robotic arm (PIXL and SHERLOC).
OVERALL the science instrument package weighs about 45 kilograms compared to about 70 kilograms for Curiosity.
The 2020 rover is the next big step on Mars, building on prior missions and paving the way for future human missions,” said Jim Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Division at NASA HQ.
Mars 2020 is truly an international mission. Two of the seven instruments come from Spain and Norway and there is significant international participation on several others.
“Over 50 institutions are represented worldwide,” said Michael Meyer, LEAD scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
“ALL seven instruments will work together and no measurements are done only by one instrument.”
The technology demonstration experiment dubbed the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) is essentially a critical demonstration of using Mars’ natural occurring resources for ‘living off the land.’ Atmospheric carbon dioxide (the main constituent of Mars atmosphere) will be used to generate oxygen – useful both as rocket fuel and for the survival of human explorers. Enormous amounts of money can be saved by implementing ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization) rather than ferrying all life support supplies from Earth across hundreds of millions of miles of interplanetary space.
MOXIE Principal Investigator Michael Hecht of MIT said that the goal is to “produce 20 grams of oxygen per hour on 50 occasions during the mission.”
“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.”
In order to cut costs and development time the rover will leverage the science and landing architecture developed for NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover that successfully accomplished an unprecedented and dramatic pinpoint landing on Mars on Aug. 5, 2012 using the rocket assisted skycrane descent maneuver.
NASA said that the overall Mars 2020 program cost is about $1.9 Billion including some $130 million to design and build the seven instruments SUITE. Since the new rover is essentially an MSL 2 except for the science instruments, most of the development risks have been retired and the cost is significantly less than the approximate $2.4 Billion cost for Curiosity.
Several instruments will be capable of detecting very low levels of organic molecules, the science team told AmericaSpace. Organics are essential precursors to life.
The Mars 2020 rover will also have a sample cacher with the ability to store up to 31 core samples collected by the rover’s drill for later retrieval and return to Earth at an as yet unspecified time.
“The purpose of the cacher is to find samples so compelling that they are worth returning to Earth,” said Grunsfeld.
Creating a Returnable Cache of Martian Samples is a major objective for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. This prototype shows hardware to cache samples of cores drilled from Martian rocks for possible future return to Earth. The 2020 rover will be able to collect and package a carefully selected set of up to 31 samples in a cache that could be returned to Earth by a later mission. The capabilities of laboratories on Earth for detailed examination of cores drilled from Martian rocks would far exceed the capabilities of any set of instruments that could feasibly be flown to Mars. For scale, the diameter of the core sample shown in the image is 0.4 inch (1 centimeter). CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Here is the complete list of the science SUITE of seven payloads, descriptions and principal investigators chosen for NASA’s 2020 Mars rover:
- 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 Phoenix.
Bell is a LEADING member of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) science team and lead investigator for the Pancam camera instrument on Spirit and Opportunity.
- 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. The principal investigator is Roger Wiens, Los ALAMOS National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. This instrument also has a significant contribution from the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales,Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Plane’tologie (CNES/IRAP) France.
- 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. The principal investigator is Abigail Allwood, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
- Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a spectrometer 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 principal investigator is Luther Beegle, JPL.
- The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. The principal investigator is Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- 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 principal investigator is Jose Rodriguez-Manfredi, Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial, Spain.
- 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. The principal investigator is Svein-Erik Hamran, Forsvarets Forskning Institute, Norway.
Therefore the instruments are a mix of more sophisticated, upgraded hardware versions working on Curiosity at this moment as WELL as 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, according to NASA.
“While getting to and landing on Mars is hard, Curiosity was an iconic example of how our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way for humans to pioneer Mars and beyond,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.
“Mars exploration will be this generation’s legacy, and the Mars 2020 rover will be another critical step on humans’ journey to the Red Planet.”
Mars Exploration Program Director Named