The Mars 2020 Mission: The next step forward in Mars exploration

Mitch Schulte, head of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, will be giving a public talk at UNSW in the Ritchie Theatre, Scientia Building, on Wednesday, August 23, 6pm-7.30pm. The talk is free.

The Mars 2020 mission: The next step forward in Mars exploration

M. Schulte, Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters, 300 E St SW, Washington, DC 20546

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 reflects 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 in situ science, demonstrate exploration technology, and prepare a cache of well-documented, carefully selected samples for potential return to Earth.

The instruments are able to determine elemental composition and mineralogy and to detect the presence of organic compounds across spatial scales of meters to hundreds of micrometers. The instrument suite includes a zooming, binocular, multi-spectral camera; a telescopic imager; two Raman spectrometers with different wavelength lasers (UV at 249 nm on the arm mounted instrument and Green at 532 nm on the mast mounted instrument); a visible/near-infrared spectrometer; a Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer; an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, a microscopic imager, and ground-penetrating radar.

The 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 from the martian atmosphere to O2, the ability to assess physical characteristics of the dust, and environmental monitoring of the temperature, pressure, humidity, wind, and radiation at Mars' surface.

The Mars 2020 mission will pave a significant portion of the path to Mars for scientific understanding and future human exploration. An overview of Mars exploration to date and the Mars 2020 mission's scientific and exploration technology objectives and the payload assembled to accomplish these goals will be detailed.