Leveraging discoveries from past Mars missions about water and habitability on Mars, the Mars 2020 rover will represent a shift toward directly seeking signs of past microbial life.
The science objectives of the Mars 2020 rover mission should be the following:
- A: Habitability
- B: Biosignatures
- C: Sample caching
- D: Prepare for humans
Science Objective A: Habitability
The first objective would be to characterize the processes that formed and modified the geologic record within a field exploration area on Mars selected for evidence of an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment and geologic diversity.
Science Objective B: Biosignatures
The second objective would be to perform the following astrobiologically-relevant investigations on the geologic materials at the landing site:
- Determine the habitability of an ancient environment.
- For ancient environments interpreted to have been habitable, search for materials with high biosignature preservation potential.
- Search for potential evidence of past life using the observations regarding habitability and preservation as a guide.
Science Objective C: Sample Catching
Obtain samples that are scientifically selected, for which the field context is documented, that contain the most promising samples identified in Objective B and that represent the geologic diversity of the field site.
- Ensure compliance with future needs in the areas of planetary protection and engineering so that the cache could be returned in the future if NASA chooses to do so.
Science Objective D: Prepare for Humans
The fourth objective would be to contribute to the preparation for human exploration of Mars by making significant progress towards filling at least one major Strategic Knowledge Gap. It would be (in priority order):
- Demonstration of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies to enable propellant and consumable oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere for future exploration missions.
- Characterization of atmospheric dust size and morphology to understand its effects on the operation of surface systems and human health.
- Surface weather measurements to validate global atmospheric models.
The Mars 2020 mission is designed for a 2020 launch to enable surface operations lasting one and a half Mars years (about 1030 Earth days).
The phases of the Mars 2020 mission will include:
- Prelaunch Activities: Preparation for the mission, including pre-project planning, science definition and instrument selection, landing site selection, assembly and testing, and delivery to Cape Canaveral.
- Launch: Lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
- Cruise: Voyage through space.
- Approach: Nearing the red planet Mars.
- Entry, Descent, and Landing: Journey through the Martian atmosphere to the surface. The Mars 2020 Rover will follow an entry, descent, landing process similar to Mars rover Curiosity's.
- Instrument Checks and First Drive: After landing when engineers first conduct tests to ensure the rover is in a "safe state".
- Surface Operations: Learning about Mars through the day-to-day activities of the rover.
Mars 2020 Mission - Credits NASA/JPL-Caltech