NASA's yet-to-be-named Mars 2020 mission will send an advanced roving laboratory to Jezero crater on Mars, the site of an ancient lake and river delta. There, the rover will study rocks that formed in habitable environments and may preserve signs of past microbial life. Throughout the mission, it will collect soil and rock samples and leave them on the surface for collection by a future Earth return mission. Only when the samples are returned to Earth will scientists be able to determine whether definitive signs of ancient life are present.
Mars 2020 is similar in structure and appearance to NASA's Curiosity rover. The components it will use to land on Mars are nearly identical to those used for Curiosity, but there are some upgrades, and the science instruments are entirely different. The Planetary Society is an education and public outreach partner for the Mastcam-Z camera system, which will produce stunning color images of the surface.
6 January 2023: End of primary mission (at least one Mars Year, or 687 Earth days, after landing)
The Mars 2020 mission science goals fall into 4 categories: geology, astrobiology, sample caching, and preparation for human exploration of Mars.
Characterize the processes that formed and modified the geologic record within a field exploration area on Mars selected for evidence of an astrobiologically-relevant ancient environment and geologic diversity.
Perform the following astrobiologically relevant investigations on the geologic materials at the landing site:
Determine the habitability of an ancient environment.
For ancient environments interpreted to have been habitable, search for materials with high biosignature preservation potential.
Search for potential evidence of past life using the observations regarding habitability and preservation as a guide.
Assemble rigorously documented and returnable cached samples for possible future return to Earth.
Obtain samples that are scientifically selected, for which the field context is documented, that contain the most promising samples identified in the astrobiology objectives and that represent the geologic diversity of the field site.
Ensure compliance with future needs in the areas of planetary protection and engineering so that the cached samples could be returned in the future if NASA chooses to do so.
Preparation for humans
Contribute to the preparation for human exploration of Mars by making significant progress towards filling at least one major Strategic Knowledge Gap (SKG). The highest priority SKG measurements that are synergistic with Mars 2020 science objectives and compatible with the mission concept are:
Demonstration of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies to enable propellant and consumable oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere for future exploration missions.
Characterization of atmospheric dust size and morphology to understand its effects on the operation of surface systems and human health.
Surface weather measurements to validate global atmospheric models.
Gathering data to inform future landings with a set of engineering sensors embedded in the Mars 2020 heat shield and backshell, including sensors for aerothermal conditions, thermal protection system performance, and aerodynamic performance of the Mars 2020 entry vehicle during its entry and descent to the Mars surface.
Cost and Key Personnel
Mars 2020's estimated cost through the prime mission (at least one Mars Year, or 687 Earth days, after landing) is $2.46 billion. This includes contributions from NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) for MOXIE and MEDLI-2.
Project Manager: John McNamee
Deputy Project Manager: Matthew Wallace
Project Scientist: Ken Farley
Deputy Project Scientist: Ken Williford
NASA / JPL-Caltech
Mars 2020 rover schematic (new)
Dimensions: 3 meters long (not including arm), 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall (roughly the size of a compact car). The robotic arm is 2.1 meters long.
Mass: 1,050 kilograms (About 300 kilograms less than a compact car).
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.
A zoomable camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability that assesses the mineralogy of the Martian surface and assists with rover operations. Principal Investigator: Jim Bell, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.
The Planetary Society is an education and outreach partner for the Mars 2020 rover's Mastcam-Z camera system. Join us as we share the exciting story and results of this science instrument.
Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA)
A set of sensors that provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and dust size and shape. Principal Investigator: Jose Rodriguez-Manfredi, Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial, Spain.
Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE)
MOXIE produces oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide to demonstrate a way future human explorers could harvest oxygen for air and propellant. Principal Investigator: Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA.
Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL)
An X-ray fluorescence spectrometer with a high-resolution imager to determine the elemental composition of Martian surface materials. Principal Investigator: Abigail Allwood, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, USA.
Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX)
A ground-penetrating radar that provides centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface. Principal Investigator: Svein-Erik Hamran, Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, Norway.
Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC)
A spectrometer and ultraviolet 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. Principal Investigator: Luther Beegle, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, USA
A laser-based instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, mineralogy, and the detection of organic compounds. Principal Investigator: Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, USA. Instrument also contains significant contribution from Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (CNES/IRAP) France.
Other instruments and technologies
NASA / JPL-Caltech
Mars Helicopter Artist's Concept
An artist's concept of the Mars Helicopter.
The Mars Helicopter is an autonomous rotorcraft that will demonstrate the viability of heavier-than-air vehicles on other worlds. After traveling to the surface attached to the Mars 2020 rover's belly pan, the helicopter will be deposited on the surface via the Mars Helicopter Delivery System. It will conduct up to 5 flights of a few hundred meters each over a 30-day period, relaying data back to the rover. As a technology demonstration mission, the helicopter's success or failure is not tied to that of the rover.
Rotor width: 1.2 meters, tip-to-tip
Mass: 1.8 kilograms
Blades: Twin, counter-rotating blades spin at up to 3,000 RPM (10 times the rate of an Earth helicopter).
Power: Solar cells and lithium-ion batteries. Cells generate 3 watts of power; flights consume 360 watts. Most of the energy is used to keep the helicopter warm.
The Mars 2020 rover has a total of 23 cameras. In addition to 7 science cameras, there are 7 entry, descent, and landing (EDL) cameras and 9 engineering cameras used to help engineers navigate the rover on the surface.
Mars 2020 Rover Cameras
The Mars 2020 rover has a total of 23 cameras: 7 science cameras, 7 EDL cameras and 9 engineering cameras.
The Mars 2020 mission will have a suite of microphones to record the sounds of EDL, and a microphone on SuperCam will be able to hear the instrument's laser zapping its rock targets. The Planetary Society has for years advocated for a Mars microphone; Carl Sagan first pitched the idea to NASA in 1996. In 1998, the Society flew the first-ever microphone to Mars on a Russian LIDAR instrument aboard NASA's Mars Polar Lander mission. The lander crashed into the surface in 1999.
Like Curiosity, Mars 2020 has 6 wheels and can independently steer its front 2 and rear 2 wheels, allowing it to rotate 360 degrees in place. In comparison to Curiosity, Mars 2020's wheels are narrower, thicker, made from stronger aluminum, and have larger diameters (52.5 vs. 50 centimeters). The grousers use a gentle wave pattern rather than chevrons.
Mars 2020 uses a nuclear power source, identical to Curiosity’s, called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermal Generator (MMRTG), which supplies the spacecraft with 110 watts of electricity as of the day of landing and keeps it warm on Mars. The MMRTG fuel source is plutonium-238.
Mars 2020 rover will land in Jezero Crater, a 45-kilometer-wide crater that once held a lake and river delta. Jezero is located at 18.4°N, 77.7°E, on Mars' dichotomy boundary, where the planet's more heavily cratered southern highland terrain gives way to the flatter terrain of the north.
ISRO / ISSDC / Emily Lakdawalla
Location of Jezero Crater Mars 2020 landing site, Mars
Jezero crater lies within the yellow circle near the center of this image (the crater itself is not visible in this global view, which was taken by Mars Orbiter Mission on 7 October 2014). InSight and Curiosity landing sites are near the edge of the disk on the right; no other successful landing sites are visible in this view.
ESA / DLR / FU Berlin / Emily Lakdawalla
Mars 2020 landing ellipse in Jezero crater
Jezero crater is 45 kilometers in diameter. The Mars 2020 landing site will be on the flat floor of the crater, just east of a dramatic ancient river delta.
NASA announced this morning the selection of Jezero crater for the landing site of the Mars 2020 mission. Jezero is a 45-kilometer-wide crater that once held a lake, and now holds a spectacular ancient river delta.
At Jezero, scientists will attempt to answer key questions about the formation of the lake and delta, and search for ancient biosignatures that range from living chemistry to actual fossils. The rover will gradually make its way up the ancient riverbed and out of the crater, surveying an entire river system from sink to source.