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[Updated]: NASA Selects 7 Science Instruments for its Next Mars Rover

Posted by Casey Dreier

31-07-2014 13:16 CDT

Topics: Mars 2020, mission status, Future Mission Concepts, Mars

NASA has selected seven science instruments that will ride along with the next Mars rover mission that is set to launch in 2020.

Compared to Curiosity, the Mars 2020 rover will focus on fine-grained mineralogy to help it detect biosignatures and understand how ancient habitats have changed over time. It will also collect and store samples of the martian surface that could be returned to Earth (though no missions are yet planned to do so).

From the press release, the seven instruments are:

Instruments selected for the Mars 2020 rover


Instruments selected for the Mars 2020 rover
On the mast are upgraded versions of instruments on Curiosity: Mastcam-Z (color, stereo, 3D, zoom-capable cameras); and SuperCam (upgraded version of ChemCam). On the arm are PIXL, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and imager, and SHERLOC, a Raman spectrometer and imager. RIMFAX is a ground-penetrating radar; MEDA is a meteorological package; and MOXIE will advance goals in in-situ resource utilization by producing oxygen from carbon dioxide.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The Planetary Society is very pleased that our President, Dr. Jim Bell, will lead the camera system on the next rover. The Society is also an official outreach partner on the camera system.

In addition to these seven instruments, NASA plans to include a suite of sensors on the descent stage that will gather data on the atmosphere during the entry, descent, and landing phase of the spacecraft. Curiosity had a similar set of sensors. The rover will also have an advanced sample caching system and robotic arm that it will use to take core samples from various rocks. These will be stored in a cache that can be left on the surface for another mission to come and retrieve to Earth.

Fifty-eight instruments were proposed and went through a lengthy review process by NASA. The selected instruments now have to be built and integrated with the rover over the next five years.

Update: Some tidbits from today's press conference with the science team:

  • It seems that Mars 2020 will not be able to take the equivalent of Curiosity's selfies—there are multiple hand lens cameras, but they don't have the proper focal distance to image the full rover.
  • The MOXIE instrument has a goal of producing 22g of O2 per hour for 50-sols (martian days).
  • SuperCam, the souped up version of ChemCam, will have the same spacial resolution for its zoom camera, but will be in color.
  • I couldn't get in a question to confirm this, but it sounds like MEDA will contain a CCD camera bolted onto the surface of the rover.
  • Total instrument mass is around 45kg, substantially less than Curiosity's 80kg (though this doesn't include the sample cache or robotic arm).
See other posts from July 2014


Or read more blog entries about: Mars 2020, mission status, Future Mission Concepts, Mars


Fred Thurber: 07/31/2014 08:23 CDT

MOXIE, ugh, what a waste of space. This is a ridiculous experiment to keep the manned directorate happy, but has almost no scientific yield. The rover has all these sophisticated instruments and this one lemon. The MOXIE experiment could easy be done on Earth; it is in ridiculous that it has to be carried all the way to Mars.

Borklund: 07/31/2014 10:52 CDT

@Fred Thurber: It's a great experiment. It'll take Mars Oxygen ISRU from a TRL of 5 or 6 to a solid 9. Or to put that in another way: from now until the end of time we will have a demonstrated capability of being able to sustain human beings on Mars with oxygen produced natively. Good information to have seeing as we intend to settle Mars. Nothing has ever been made on another planet before. We need to start taking bold steps if we're ever going to live on Mars or anywhere else.

Gregory K: 08/01/2014 08:30 CDT

Does anyone know why the mass is so much lighter than Curiosity? Is it a cost saving measure? Does it allow a cheaper rocket for launch?

Fred Thurber: 08/01/2014 12:26 CDT

The rover instrument package, except for Moxie, sounds great. Hopefully MOXIE gets de-scoped somewhere down the road and its space is used for something useful. There are hundreds of universities that could run a MOXIE experiment here on Earth for a fraction of the cost. Will the spectrometers obviate the need for a SAM-like package? No APXS?

Casey Dreier: 08/01/2014 04:50 CDT

Gregory: To begin with, there are fewer instruments on Mars 2020 than Curiosity, though, as noted, additional mass will be required to accommodate the sample cache. That's a good question about the cost of launch, but I don't imagine it's substantial enough to alter the size of the rocket needed to launch the spacecraft. Fred: No APXS. I believe this will be the first NASA rover ever not to carry this instrument. The spectrometers serve a different purpose than SAM, but the science goals of this mission are different than Curiosity's. Fundamentally, they want to have a good idea of the context around which they sample the martian rock for Earth return. They want to focus on mineralogy, not just compositional information, and SAM doesn't provide that. And don't be so hard on MOXIE! While you can demonstrate tech on Earth, doing the same thing on the surface of Mars is an entirely different challenge. If we want to send a larger version of this to the surface to generate oxygen for astronauts, it helps to have a step in which you prove the concept can work autonomously.

Bob Ware: 08/01/2014 08:51 CDT

One day we all will here, "Hello Earthlings. My name is Marvin..." Congrats to the selected science teams! I look forward to your data return and your ground analysis! : )

Arbitrary: 08/02/2014 07:12 CDT

I wish they would implement "simulated real time" control of the rover. They could try it out on Curiosity already. I've seen a convincing lecture about it (which I cannot find now). Today commands are given and results are evaluated only once per day. While the travel time of light to-and-from Mars is 10-40 minutes, the actual delay is 24 hours. The rover might as well be at Neptune. The control room would see a simulation of where the rover will be and what it is doing 10-40 minutes into the future. Images and other actual data is updated continuously afterwards. Most of the time this data isn't needed to steer the rover. This is used to handle the lag in multiplayer online games today. Given uninterrupted communications, the rover could be run 24 hours a day and be hugely more productive. And live interaction with geologists might improve the quality of data too.

Fred Thurber: 08/02/2014 10:21 CDT

Sigh, I guess if the price of funding a rover on Mars is MOXIE then so be it. The RAD instrument on MSL was another concession to the Human spaceflight Directorate that rules NASA, but MOXIE, unlike RAD, could be done in any of a hundred university basements. There must be a lot of rolling of eyes and knowing winks when MOXIE is discussed at JPL. It might actually be good for publicity so I that is a good thing...

Bob Ware: 08/02/2014 11:07 CDT

This spacecraft carries a nice suite of instruments. In my assessment the first 5 are mission critical to be able to obtain a successful mission based upon the mission objective. The last 2 are a needed compliment. This looks like it will be a giant step forward mission upon completion. Fly girl, FLY!!! RIMFAX would be good to have on a drill core retrieval mission since it should be used prior to drilling so we'd have an idea of what we are drilling into, litho or hydro sphere material for example. Drilling into a cavern or tube blindly could cause a collapse leading to a stuck rover or lander by surprise. Oops. Acceptable risks. We should do that type of a mission also. Maybe the next one out. PlanetVac maybe could be expanded to carry a RIMFAX. That would be a real bonus.

Bob Ware: 08/02/2014 11:32 CDT

Fred - regarding your comment, "...MOXIE, unlike RAD, could be done in any of a hundred university basements. ..." I don't agree with that. Labs at best can show what may be and are usually correct. In the case of needing to critically support a mission 'usually correct' is not good enough. The actual environment needs to be used to be sure the theory and components work as designed. Right now is the correct timing to do this. If this fails we will need to figure out why it failed. Labs can provide that clue and then a fix can be worked on and then re-fly to retest. Hopefully the labs (if tested there first) will give us good working hardware. From an engineering perspective based on what we now know, this should succeed on the first try...hardware speaking. Theory, time will tell.

Fred Thurber: 08/02/2014 02:49 CDT

OK, OK, I will stand down on my MOXIE objections; JPL knows a lot better than I do about such matters. What is the plan to deal with the coating of dust and perchlorates that seems to cover everything on Mars? Will the laser be able to tunnel through it or will a some sort of dust removal tool be used? I have often thought that most economical approach would be to just clone MSL (with a few tweaks such as the wheels and solvent containers) and send it to something like Mawrth Vallis...

Torbj??rn Larsson: 08/04/2014 06:23 CDT

Nice! A more capable packet for smaller mass, meaning they can put IRFU and SR in. @Arbitrary: Actually I expect the 2020 rover to go slower than Curiosity did initially, if not the wheel upgrades (more ribbons for smaller holes, perhaps) alleviate wear and tear. Even with advanced large scale steering they want to keep on the lookout for small scale rocks and wheel tears, and they have no dedicated instrument package helping out characterizing ground/wheels so it's all cameras again. @Thurber: IIRC it is now knon that the ChemCam blows away the dust in the first couple of repeats on the analysis spot. Cloning Curiosity won't advance (like SR, IRFU, et cetera). The 2020 equipment package seems suited for looking closer at the elusive organics. (I.e. no perchlorate confused wet chemistry used.)

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