What’s in a name? Mars 2020 wouldn’t know, it doesn’t have one – yet
PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s next mission to the Red Planet is the Mars 2020 Rover, which is scheduled to launch this summer. The Space Agency recently provided a sneak peek at the new $2.5 billion robot on Friday, Dec. 27. One thing was still missing however – its name.
As it stands the Mars 2020 rover’s name is, well, Mars 2020. NASA is gearing up to change that. This past fall a contest was held for K-12 students to submit their suggestions as to what the rover’s name should be. Contests such as these have been held for a number of NASA’s missions to the Red Planet and are part of the Agency’s efforts to encourage students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
“This naming contest is a wonderful opportunity for our nation’s youth to get involved with NASA’s Moon to Mars missions,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “It is an exciting way to engage with a rover that will likely serve as the first leg of a Mars Sample return campaign, collecting and caching core samples from the Martian surface for scientists here on Earth to study for the first time.”
The semifinalists will be chosen on January 9 with finalists scheduled to be selected on January 20. As part of the final selection process, the public will have the opportunity to vote online as to which of the names should be chosen. When all is said-and-done the grand prize winner will be announced on February 18, 2020 – precisely one year before the rover is slated to touch down on the Red Planet.
In terms of the robotic scientist, having a name is great, but having a mission is better and Mars 2020 is packed with the right equipment to get the job done.
There will be cameras and microphones carried onboard for the first time, hopefully recording the sights and sounds of the entry, descent and landing sequences. This should provide a spectacular, almost first-hand experience for what a landing on Mars is actually like.
The Mars 2020 rover mission will investigate the local geology, seek signs of ancient habitable environments as well as look for evidence of past microbial life. Additionally, this rover will also collect key rock and soil samples, which will be stored in tubes and left on the surface to await a future sample return mission. But first the anonymous robot has to get there.
The launch window for this mission extends from July 17 to August 5, 2020. NASA chose United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket to heft the 1,982 lbs (899 kilogram) rover out of Earth’s dense atmosphere. The 541 version of the rocket, the next-to-most powerful version of the launch vehicle is required to get the mission underway. The “541” designation means the rocket has a 5-meter diameter payloads fairing, 4 strap-on solid rocket boosters, and a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10C engine on its Centaur upper stage.
from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The July 17 launch window will open at 9:00 a.m. EDT (13:00 UTC). If ULA is unable to launch on that day, there are daily windows each lasting between one and two hours each day through August 5.
The Rover’s landing will take place in an ancient crater lake, Jezero crater, on February 18, 2021 which will be just after the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere of Mars. Jezero is a 30 mile wide crater located just over 18° north latitude. The crater is named after a small town with a population of 1,100 located in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At present, the rover’s primary components, the rover, itself, the Sky Crane a rocket powered descent stage and the Cruise Stage.are being prepped to fly on a C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft to Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early February.
“The Sky crane with its eight variable thrust rockets will burn 100 gallons of hydrazine as the vehicle goes from 200 mph to 2 mph and then hovers some 60 feet above the ground as it lowers the rover on a tether to the surface.” Ray Baker, Mars 2020 Flight Systems Manager, told SpaceFlight Insider. “The landing accuracy of this rover will be much greater than that of Curiosity’s landing on August 5, 2012. Mars 2020 will use a new technique called Terrain-Relative Navigation. Curiosity’s landing ellipse was 12.4 miles x 4.3 miles but Mars 2020 will land in a circle 4.3 miles in diameter and be able to reduce position uncertainty from 1.8 miles to only 130 feet.”
Dr. Jim W. Rice, Jr., is an Astrogeologist at the Planetary Science Institute, he has over 25 years research experience specializing on the surface geology and history of water on Mars. Dr. Rice is currently a Co-Investigator and Geology Team Leader on the Mars Exploration Rover Project (Spirit and Opportunity). Rice also has extensive mission experience as Associate Project Scientist on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey Orbiter Projects. He has been involved in Mars landing site selection and certification activities for every NASA Mars Mission since Mars Pathfinder. His career includes working for NASA, Astrogeology Headquarters of the United States Geological Survey, the Mars Spaceflight Facility located at Arizona State University and the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory located at the University of Arizona.