NASA is already gearing up for its subsequent mission to Mars with a extra tricked-out, up to date model of the Curiosity Mars rover, the company introduced lately.
New for the Mars 2020 mission contains seven new devices, new wheels, a brand new drill to seize rock cores and a caching system with a miniature robotic arm to retailer the samples.
The brand new gear is at the moment below improvement at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Different new options on the rover will embody a brand new cruise stage to fly the rover out to Mars and new descent-stage expertise for touchdown — together with one thing that JPL is looking a “sky crane” to decrease the rover onto the planet’s floor.
Nonetheless, the Rover appears to be like roughly the identical as a result of it’s roughly the identical; round 85 % of the on the brand new rover is predicated on (or is) heritage . The usage of so many related parts will maintain the price of the mission down, based on widespread sense… and Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “It saves us cash, time and most of all, reduces threat.”
The look could also be related, however the brand new rover has a really totally different mission from its predecessor, the parents at JPL mentioned. Instrumentation on Mars 2020 is designed to search for historic life indicators on the Purple Planet by finding out terrain that’s now unlivable, however as soon as had lakes and rivers on it (a minimum of it did three.5 billion years in the past).
Just like the starship Enterprise, the rover will likely be searching for indicators of life — however will likely be wanting on a microbial scale. The rover is kitted out with an x-ray spectrometer that may goal spots as small as a grain of salt, and a UV laser that may detect what NASA calls the “glow” of excited rings of carbon atoms. Floor-penetrating radar can even be on the rover to present scientists a peak below the Martian crust — to have a look at layers of rock, water and ice as much as 30 ft deep.
That’s the brand new , however the rover half two electrical boogaloo can also be getting upgrades to gear ported over from Curiosity, together with: shade cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that may vaporize rocks and soil for chemical evaluation.
“Our subsequent devices will construct on the success of MSL, which was a proving floor for brand spanking new expertise,” mentioned George Tahu, NASA’s Mars 2020 program govt. “These will collect science information in ways in which weren’t doable earlier than.”
NASA scientists are hoping the rover will be capable to drill a minimum of 20, and as much as 40 rock, cores for later assortment and evaluation by future missions.
“Whether or not life ever existed past Earth is likely one of the grand questions people search to reply,” mentioned Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020’s mission scientist. “What we study from the samples collected throughout this mission has the potential to handle whether or not we’re alone within the universe.”
Past the rover expertise updates and new options, JPL is also engaged on new sorts of touchdown applied sciences that may robotically discover protected touchdown websites based mostly on pre-loaded terrain maps. This “terrain-relative navigation” will information the descent stage to the optimum websites for its mission.
A spread set off can also be going for use within the new mission, which can allow scientists to extra precisely drop the rover in an excellent location.
“Terrain-relative navigation permits us to go to websites that had been dominated too dangerous for Curiosity to discover,” mentioned Al Chen of JPL, the Mars 2020 entry, descent and touchdown lead. “The vary set off lets us land nearer to areas of scientific curiosity, shaving miles — probably as a lot as a 12 months — off a rover’s journey.”
All of that is being performed with a watch towards focusing future Mars missions on websites that appear almost definitely to have been liveable. They embody a lake mattress known as the Jezero Crater; Northeast Syrtis, which as soon as held heat waters that might have reacted with sub-surface rocks; and doable scorching springs within the prosaically named Columbia Hills.
Featured Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech