The Mars 2020 Mission: The Next Step Forward in Mars Exploration

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 4:00 PM
Michael A Meyer, NASA HQ, Washington, DC, United States and Mitchell D Schulte, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, United States
The next rover mission to Mars represents the culmination of almost two decades of strategic missions in the exploration of Mars. Our understanding of the Red Planet has evolved from a global frozen desert to a dynamic world that once was warmer, wetter, and could have supported microbial life, and the series of missions reflect this evolution, moving from global reconnaissance to seeking the signs of life. The 2020 rover will be outfitted with seven sophisticated payload elements to conduct remote sensing and contact science, demonstrate exploration technology, and cache samples for potential return to Earth. The mission’s capabilities exceed the threshold mission detailed in the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team 2013 report1 and meets the NRC’s 2011 Decadal Survey’s requirements for the highest priority mission of NASA’s Planetary Science2. The instruments selected July 31, 2014, are able to determine elemental composition and mineralogy and detect organic compounds across spatial scales of meters to 100’s of micrometers. The instrument suite includes a combination of a zooming, binocular, multi-spectral camera; a telescopic imager; two Raman spectrometers with different wavelength lasers (UV and Green); a visible/near-infrared spectrometer; a Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer; an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, a microscopic imager, and ground-penetrating radar. Their purpose is to enable the science team to establish the geological context of the landing site area, to assess whether past or present environments could support microbial life, to search for potential biosignatures, and to use this information to identify samples for caching. To prepare for future human exploration, the payload includes the ability for in situ resource utilization, converting CO2 to O2, the ability to assess physical characteristics of the dust, and environmental monitoring of the temperature, pressure, humidity, wind, and radiation. The Mars 2020 mission will pave a significant portion of the path to Mars for scientific understanding and future human exploration. We will detail the mission's scientific and exploration technology objectives and the payload assembled to accomplish these goals.