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NASA ready to proceed with Mars Rover, target launch in 2020

The Mars 2020 rover will investigate a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favourable for microbial life, probing the Martian rocks for evidence of past life.

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Mars Rover 2020. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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  • The Mars 2020 rover will investigate a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favourable for microbial life, probing the Martian rocks for evidence of past life
  • Samples of soils and rocks would be collected throughout the mission and cache them on the surface for potential return to Earth by a future mission
  • Once a mission receives preliminary approval, it must go through four rigorous technical and programmatic reviews — known as Key Decision Points (KDP) to proceed through the phases of development prior to launch

NASA is ready to start with design and construction of Mars Rover, scheduled to launch in 2020 summer and will arrive on February 2021.

NASA Logo. mage Source: Wikimedia Commons
NASA Logo. mage Source: Wikimedia Commons

“This mission marks a significant milestone in NASA’s Journey to Mars – to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, and to advance our goal of sending humans to the Red Planet,” said Geoffrey Yoder, Acting Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Samples of soils and rocks would be collected throughout the mission and cache them on the surface for potential return to Earth by a future mission.

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According to Yoder, “The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth.”

Mr. Geoffrey Yoder, Acting Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Image Source: science.nasa.gov
Mr. Geoffrey Yoder, Acting Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Image Source: science.nasa.gov

To reduce risk and provide cost savings, the 2020 rover will look much like its six-wheeled, one-tonne predecessor, Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, but with an array of new science instruments and enhancements to explore Mars as never before, NASA said in a statement.

The Mars 2020 rover, will use the same sky crane landing system as Curiosity, but will have the ability to land in a more challenging terrain with two enhancements, making more rugged sites eligible as safe landing candidates, the US space agency pointed out.

The Mars 2020 mission has already passed an extensive review process and a major development milestone.

Payload Mars Rover 2020. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Payload Mars Rover 2020. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Once a mission receives preliminary approval, it must go through four rigorous technical and programmatic reviews — known as Key Decision Points (KDP) to proceed through the phases of development prior to launch.

Phase A involves concept and requirements definition, Phase B is preliminary design and technology development, Phase C is final design and fabrication, and Phase D is system assembly, testing, and launch. Mars 2020 has just passed its KDP-C milestone.

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“Since Mars 2020 is leveraging the design and some spare hardware from Curiosity, a significant amount of the mission’s heritage components have already been built during Phases A and B,” George Tahu, Mars 2020 Programme Executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington said.

Design of Mars Rover 2020. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Design of Mars Rover 2020. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

“With the KDP to enter Phase C completed, the project is proceeding with final design and construction of the new systems, as well as the rest of the heritage elements for the mission,” Tahu added. (IANS)

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there

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NASA image.
NASA's Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm. Pixabay

With NASA engineers yet to make contact with the Opportunity Mars rover due to a massive storm on the Red Planet, scientists are pinning their hopes on learning more about Martian dust storms from images captured by the Curiosity probe.

As of Tuesday morning, the Martian dust storm had grown in size and was officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend, NASA said.

The US space agency said the Curiosity Rover this month used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness of the surface of Mars caused by the massive dust storm.

For NASA’s human scientists watching from the ground, Curiosity offers an unprecedented window to answer some questions. One of the biggest: Why do some Martian dust storms last for months and grow massive, while others stay small and last only a week?

“We don’t have any good idea,” said Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Mars Rover
Mars Rover, Pixabay

Curiosity, he pointed out, plus a fleet of spacecraft in the orbit of Mars, will allow scientists for the first time to collect a wealth of dust information both from the surface and from space.

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there.

The current storm has starkly increased dust at Gale Crater, where the Curiosity rover is studying the storm’s effects from the surface.

But it poses little risk to the Curiosity rover, said Curiosity’s engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Also Read: NASA Plans To Install An Instrument To Monitor Plant Water Use

However, there was still no signal from the Opportunity rover, although a recent analysis of the rover’s long-term survivability in Mars’ extreme cold suggests Opportunity’s electronics and batteries can stay warm enough to function.

Regardless, the project does not expect to hear from Opportunity until the skies begin to clear over the rover.

The dust storm is comparable in scale to a similar storm observed by Viking I in 1977, but not as big as the 2007 storm that Opportunity previously weathered. (IANS)