NASA creates new unmanned rover for Mars 2020 mission

And will retain 85 percent of the rover technology from 2012 Curiosity mission.
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This artist's rendition depicts NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying a Mars rock outrcrop.

This artist's rendition depicts NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying a Mars rock outrcrop.

In just a few years, NASA's next Mars rover mission will be flying to the Red Planet, the US Space agency announced.

NASA's 2020 Mars mission will seek signs of ancient life as well as biosignatures on a microbial scale in areas of the uninhabitable red planet.

At a glance, it looks a lot like its predecessor, the Curiosity Mars rover. But there's no doubt it's a souped-up science machine,’ NASA said. ‘It has seven new instruments, redesigned wheels and more autonomy. A drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they'll be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission. This will be NASA’s next mission to Mars in 2020, the US Space agency said in a press release.

"The fact that so much of the hardware has already been designed -- or even already exists -- is a major advantage for this mission," said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "It saves us money, time and most of all, reduces risk."

This artist's concept depicts NASA's Mars 2020 rover exploring Mars. The mission will not only seek out and study an area likely to have been habitable in the distant past, but will also look out for signs of past microbial life.

This artist's concept depicts NASA's Mars 2020 rover exploring Mars. The mission will not only seek out and study an area likely to have been habitable in the distant past, but will also look out for signs of past microbial life.

The 2020 Mars mission will seek signs of ancient life by studying terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago. It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale in areas of the uninhabitable red planet. A ground-penetrating radar will be the first instrument to look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 30 feet (10 meters) deep, depending on the material, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said.

"Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer," said Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020's project scientist. "What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we're alone in the universe."

JPL is also developing a crucial new landing technology called terrain-relative navigation that will be backed by a rocket-powered "sky crane, to conserve energy usage in the landing process. Further, it will also use computer vision to compare the landscape with pre-loaded terrain maps. This technology will guide the descent stage to safe landing sites, correcting its course along the way.

The Space agency has successfully landed spacecraft on Mars seven times and is using ISS - the International Space Station to prepare for human missions to the moon and Mars. NASA’s next mission could launch in July or August 2020 and is expected to retain 85 percent of rover technology from the previous 2012 Curiosity mission.