NASA’s Next Nuclear-Powered Mars Rover: Building the Beast
NASA’s next nuclear-powered Mars rover, slated to launch in 2020, is
slowly coming together. And while the Mars 2020 mission is largely based
on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, which is now exploring the Red Planet,
there are a variety of distinctions that set it apart.
NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission
is expected to explore a select site that’s geologically diverse, is
likely to have been habitable and to seek out signs of past life.
But the rover is also slated to collect and stash Mars samples in tubes
and drop them off at a preselected depot point. Years later, according
to NASA’s plan, those Martian samples would be scooped up by a “ship and
shoot” robotic mission to deliver the specimens back to Earth. [NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Mission in Pictures]
This month, a mix of rover specialists and landing-site scientists met
here to discuss the ambitious Mars 2020 mission during NASA’s second
landing-site workshop for the flight. The meeting’s primary goal was to
pare down a large number of candidate landing sites on Mars that emerged from the first workshop. Future landing-site meetings will eventually pick the winning exploration zone.
The meeting, which ran from Aug. 4 to Aug. 6, also served as a sort of
show and tell time for engineers as they work ahead of key decisions
that need to be made in designing the Mars 2020 robot.
Image: This artist’s
concept shows the sky-crane maneuver during the descent of NASA’s
Curiosity rover to the Martian surface, which engineers dubbed “seven
minutes of terror.” The Mars 2020 mission will leverage the design of
this landing system and other aspects of Curiosity’s Mars Science