NASA has unveiled the spacecraft that the new Mars rover will use to travel to the Red Planet in 2020, as the US space organization continues to pave the way for a possible manned mission. March 2020 will see a completely new rover that is loose on the planet's surface, complete with a tool kit of brand new instrumentation to do research.
It won't be NASA's first rover on Mars, of course. Four previous robbers have been deployed to the Red Planet, all of which are handled by Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.
First came Sojourner, Mars Pathfinder. It landed on Mars on July 4, 1997 and continued to function until communication disappeared just over two months later. The second followed, landed on January 4, 2004. Although NASA only intended to operate for a relatively short period, Spirit continued to transfer until March 22, 201
Opportunity arrived shortly after landing on January 25, 2004. It succeeded for fifteen years, until a dust storm in 2018 blocked its solar panels and the rover died. Finally, the curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 and is still active.
Each rover has used various tools and instruments to perform various investigations. The March 2020 rover is expected to work for at least one March year – about 687 days – and will carry a drill so that it can collect samples from soil and rocks. NASA does not plan to bring these samples back from Mars, but hopes that this "test dump" could be a first demonstration of a process that would eventually allow such extracts to be returned to Earth.
It must of course be there first. To do so, NASA will use the Mars 2020 spacecraft, whose complete cruise phase will be shown for the first time. It lies on top of the white and black aerial cell, which is used to protect the vehicle both as cruises to the planet and as it goes down through the martial atmosphere.
A rocket-driven descent stage lies inside the air cell, meanwhile. NASA used a replica cove – about the size of a car – to simulate the space it will occupy, as the real rover is still being built. Overall, the spacecraft will take about seven months from the launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July 2020, before – if all goes well – it lands at Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.
To do that, it needs a large parachute. NASA demonstrated that technology in mind last year, with a record-breaking deployment of a test chute from a Black Brant IX sounding rocket.