Nasa plans to add a helicopter to Mars 2020 mission
– News of May 8, 2018 –
Last Saturday, the Insight mission flew to Mars aboard an Atlas 5 rocket. Everything seems to have gone as planned and we will now have to wait for under seven months until the lander. NASA is not wasting time : it is currently preparing the next martian mission, a Rover called March 2020.
With Mars 2020, NASA will continue to exploit platforms that have proven themselves on the red planet. Insight takes over the architecture of the Phoenix mission and the March 2020 Rover will take over the architecture of the Curiosity mission. March 2020 will weigh almost a ton. NASA will give its final approval to assembly the Rover at the end of May. One of the last decisions to be made is the subject of much debate : whether or not to add a helicopter to the mission ?
The helicopter is already prototyped for a few years. He even done flight tests in an environment that reproduces Martian conditions. It is an independent JPL project but has been thought from the beginning to be able to be grafted to a Rover. The March 2020 helicopter however has some opponents within the US space administration. He is accused of increasing the risks of the mission while making a minimal scientific contribution.
It is above all a demonstrator that serves as proof of concept for future missions. As currently planned, the martian helicopter would be active during the first 30 days of the mission only. The first 30 days of the Rover will also be crucial and some teams would prefer to spend all their time looking after Mars 2020 rather than doing flight tests in the Martian atmosphere.
The size of its rotors and its feather weight will allow it to rise in the fine martian atmosphere up to 400 meters in height. It will only ship a small battery recharged by photovoltaic cells and able to provide three minutes of flight per day. Its payload will be a high resolution camera and a communication system.
With the Rover, the only mission of the helicopter will be to make reconnaissance for March 2020. Its high resolution camera should provide images ten times more detailed than the satellites currently orbiting Mars, ideal for selecting the most promising sites for the Rover. By the launch date, Nasa still has to identify the landing site and to solve some technical problems such as the fractures that were discovered on the heat shield that should allow the return to the Martian atmosphere.
NASA starts building the Mars 2020 rover
– News of December 12, 2017 –
In 2020, three rovers will arrive on the planet Mars : a Chinese rover, a European rover and an American rover. NASA has just started building the American rover. NASA is largely recovering from the Curiosity rover platform that is on the planet Mars since summer 2012. The Mars 2020 rover exploration mission was created for the long-term : the Mars 2020 rover is responsible for collecting samples that the NASA hopes to return to Earth between five years and ten years later. Thus, a large part of the payload of the rocket that will carry the rover will be dedicated to the collection and storage of samples for the mission back to Earth.
But the Mars 2020 rover, which will still weigh more than a ton, will benefit from more powerful instruments and a mission different from Curiosity. In the past, Curiosity has been tasked to determine the livability of the planet Mars while Mars 2020 will go directly in search of traces of fossil life. These would probably be very old. It is likely that the planet Mars hosted liquid water in abundance around 3.7 billion years ago. If these conditions have allowed the emergence of life, perhaps the rover will arrive to find a fossil. But the hospitable conditions of the planet Mars have lasted very little time on the scale of evolution : certainly a few hundred millions of years. At best, Mars 2020 will find microbes or bacteria.
To fulfill its mission, the Mars 2020 rover will carry out on-site analysis. Some of the Mars 2020 instruments will be much more powerful than those of Curiosity. The rover could thus detect a microscopic extraterrestrial. NASA has also equipped the rover with instruments that will enable it to determine the most promising samples for return and analysis on Earth. Radars and cameras should help Mars 2020 to drill the most interesting layers of the red planet. The mission to bring the samples back to Earth has not yet been budgeted, and it is not sure that the US Congress agrees.Sources
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Image by NASA / JPL-Caltech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons