Mars 2020 Rover. What you need to know.

Mars has long been the focus of many scientists’ curiosity and over the past two decades, NASA has sent many rovers and probes to the Red Planet as part of the Mars Exploration Program. These rovers have covered several miles and have discovered evidence of wet conditions billions of years ago. 

The Mars 2020 rover hopes to go one step further. It has been designed to better understand the geology of Mars and to seek out signs of ancient life.  

Image Credit: NASA

A Few Dates for your Diary 

The launch of the Mars 2020 rover is estimated to be in July/August from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It will then land on Mars on the 18th February 2021 at the site of an ancient river delta. Nasa plan for the rover to spend at least one Mars year (or two Earth years) exploring the region.  

What does Mars 2020 hope to achieve? 

The Mars 2020 rover contributes to the four science goals for Mars Exploration. These include: 

  • Determine whether life ever arose on Mars 

Mars 2020 is the first rover mission designed to seek signs of past microbial life. It will focus particularly in special rocks known to preserve signs of life over time.  

  • Characterize the Climate on Mars 

The rover’s instruments are looking for evidence of ancient habitable environments where microbial life could have existed in the past. 

  • Characterize the Geology on Mars 

It is designed to study the rock record to reveal more about the geologic processes that created and modified the Martian crust and surface through time. 
This mission will also gather rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth by a future NASA Mission. 

  • Prepare for Human Exploration 

It is looking into using natural resources on Mars for life support and fuel. There is a National Space Policy that says we could be sending humans to space by the 2030s. Hopefully, Mars 2020 will provide us with some more answers and solutions to achieve this goal! 

Image credit: NASA

How do they plan on doing all this? 

With several state-of-the-art instruments of course! The rover will hold instruments that take the study of this planet to the next level (all of them have nifty names too): 

  • Mastcam-Z: This is a cutting-edge camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging with the ability to zoom. 
  • SuperCam:   

Will provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and  mineralogy at a distance. Pretty super alright! 

  • Planetary Instrument for X- ray Lithochemisty:  

Or PIXL for short! This is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and high-resolution imager to map the fine-scale elemental structure of Martian surface materials. 
 

  • Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals: 

Catchy name, I know! SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars. It plans to use an Ultraviolet laser to map mineralogy and organic compounds. 

  • The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Equipment: 

In the business we like to call it MOXIE. This tool will produce oxygen from Martian atmosphere carbon dioxide. If MOXIE is successful, we could use it in the future to burn rocket fuel for returning to Earth! 

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/overview/

Surely they could have thought of a better name? 

I agree. Mars 2020 doesn’t exactly have a ring to it!  

NASA have left it in the hands of school students around the world! Their ‘Name the Rover’ Contest had more than 28,000 entries from across the world! The winner was chosen in March – PERSEVERANCE! NASA will invite the lucky winning student to see the spacecraft launch in July 2020. 

Image Credit: NASA

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