NASA receives instrument proposals for Mars 2020 rover
NASA announced on Tuesday January 21 that it had received 58 proposals for scientific and exploration instruments for the space agency’s proposed Mars 2020 rover mission. The call for proposals received nearly twice the average number of responses for similar instrument competitions. The design of the new rover will be based on the Curiosity rover which landed on Mars in 2012 but with new instruments and an expanded mission to search for signs of past life on the Red Planet and prepare the way for future human exploration.
The call for proposals began in September of 2013 and ended on Jan. 15. Proposals were submitted by NASA facilities, universities, aerospace companies, research laboratories and other government agencies and seventeen international partners. NASA will now begin the process of evaluating the proposals and anticipates making a final decision in the next five months.
“Proposal writing for science missions is extremely difficult and time consuming. We truly appreciate this overwhelming response by the worldwide science and technical community and are humbled by the support and enthusiasm for this unique mission,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. “We fully expect to be able to select an instrument suite that will return exciting science and advance space exploration at Mars.”
While previous and current Mars missions have focused on “following the water” , the Mars 2020 mission will pursue expanded scientific goals and help prepare the way for planned manned missions to Mars in the 2030s. Goals for the mission include assessing the geology of the rover’s landing site, determining the habitability of the environment, searching for signs of ancient life and assessing both natural resources and potential hazards for future human explorers.
The rover may also help scientists understand the hazards posed by dust on Mars and demonstrate technology for extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could be a useful resource for producing oxygen and rocket fuel.
“NASA robotic missions are pioneering a path for human exploration of Mars in the 2030s,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations in Washington. “The Mars 2020 rover mission presents new opportunities to learn how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the land could reduce costs and engineering challenges posed by Mars exploration.”
Another crucial mission objective is the selection, collection and storage of rock and soil sample for eventual return to Earth in the future. Sample return from Mars has been a long sought-after goal of planetary scientists and is one of the highest priority objectives of the National Research Council’s 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey. Analysis of Martian soil samples in laboratories here on Earth could help definitively determine whether life ever existed on Mars and provide important information for planning human missions to Mars.
NASA hopes to lower mission development costs by using Curiosity’s proven landing system and rover chassis. Like Curiosity, the Mars 2020 rover will use a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) as a power source. The rover mission is scheduled to launch aboard an Atlas V rocket in July or August of 2020 and arrive at Mars sometime between January and March of 2021. The primary mission is planned to last one Martian year (668 days).
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.