Scientists Narrow in on Landing Site for NASA’s Next Mars Rover

Feb 20, 2017

By Jeffrey Marlow

The Curiosity Mars rover is in the prime of its robotic life, approaching dramatic layered deposits on the slopes of Mt. Sharp. But even as the four and a half year-old mission reaches the features it was initially sent to investigate, scientists and engineers are feverishly planning for the next rover mission, Mars 2020.

2020 is shaping up to be a busy year on the Mars exploration calendar: in addition to the NASA rover, the European Space Agency and China have missions slotted for the favorable launch window. But where to go? Making the decision is a complex process, as teams of scientists and engineers develop navigational software, optimize the payload, and establish the geologic context of potential landing sites.

The importance of site selection is magnified by the role of Mars 2020 as the first step in a sample return mission – a longtime grail of Mars scientists. In its current configuration, the rover can collect about 30 canisters of soil, air, or rock particles. A future, planned-but-not-yet-officially-on-the-books mission will return the cache to Earth, where a robust analytical arsenal will be waiting to conduct a battery of detailed tests.

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One comment on “Scientists Narrow in on Landing Site for NASA’s Next Mars Rover”

  • @OP – scientists and engineers are feverishly planning for the next rover mission, Mars 2020.

    There is also this future project which is planning to place a rover on the far-side of the Moon!

    Project Tsiolkovski

    Tsiolkovski mission aims to land a rover in Tsiolkovski crater on the far side of the Moon.
    The rover will land in between the central peak and the northern rim, to sample a combination of mare and highland material.
    It will circumnavigate the central peak, deposit a radio observatory, a network of seismometers, measure the magnetic field, density and chemical composition of the soil, be equipped with micrometeoroid and radiation detectors, and atmospheric gas sensors, and conduct a heat flow experiment.

    A separate sample return probe returns the samples to Earth.

    Exploration of the far side is justified for several reasons. Firstly, to determine age, origin, and chemical and physical composition of features; to determine whether companion moon impacted the far side, and material from the collision made the far side crust thicker; to determine whether Tsiolkovski was formed by an impact, or was volcanic in origin; to choose sites for manned landings and lunar bases.

    In addition, the far side maria are rich in helium-3, possible fuel for fusion reactors.

    The lack of Earth interference, presents the far side as an ideal location for an observatory.
    The far side is immune from Earth eclipses, and the corresponding extremes of temperature of which change rocks. Thus primordial rock is expected to be better preserved.

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