The Next Mars Rover Will Sport Some Serious Hardware

By Bill Andrews | November 3, 2017 2:46 pm

The Mars 2020 rover. (Credit: NASA)

NASA must be big fans of Douglas Quaid in Total Recall. “Get your ass to Mars,” he says, and NASA listened, sending 24 probes, landers and rovers over the past five decades. It’s just too tempting a target: The closest, easiest planetary neighbor for us to explore, which may or may not prove habitable, also tells scientists more about the solar system’s history.

We’re steadily learning more and more about the next Mars rover, currently known as “Mars 2020.”  It’s due to launch in the summer of 2020, will arrive on the Red Planet about 7 months later, and is scheduled to spend about 2 years (1 Mars year) studying the world and its potential for habitability, including searching for past microbial life itself. NASA hasn’t decided on a landing site yet, but they did release this week a bit more on the tools it’ll sport and — as expected of the space agency — the tech is out of this world.

Smile for the Cameras

For starters, the rover will boast 23 cameras, a leap above Curiosity’s 17 and Spirit and Opportunity’s 10 each. With them, Mars 2020 will analyze the atmosphere and soil of Mars, spot any obstacles in its path, work together with other science instruments on board, and even create better, prettier pictures than ever before. The state of the art cameras will have more color and 3-D options than any previous rover, perfect for examining and locating a ground feature at a distance. (Also, in what I’m sure is a coincidence, two of the seven science cameras are named SHERLOC and WATSON.)

NASA also made sure the rover will be able to capture its own descent onto the Martian surface, hopefully snapping the first images of a parachute opening on another planet.

There’s even an internal camera, named the CacheCam, that will study samples the rover will dig up and leave on the surface for future missions to collect (an optimistic plan but, knowing NASA, not too unlikely).

Beyond the Lens

The real issue nowadays isn’t getting good enough cameras to Mars, it’s getting their photos back to Earth. As megapixel counts go up, it means more data to beam back, and it’s not like the Red Planet is known for its wifi. Sure, you can compress the data (as the Curiosity rover does), but that only gets you so far. So NASA has a plan: Just use the existing orbiting spacecraft as data relays, middle men who can take the data from the Martian surface and send it to Earth themselves.

It’s a science-fiction sounding plan, but as cool as the Mars 2020 rover turns out to be (it will also feature better wheels and maybe even a flying drone buddy, it’ll surely be eclipsed by whatever NASA sends to Mars next.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration
  • OWilson

    Yet another circa 1970 Radio Shack remote toy to go “where no man has ever been”, but robots have been for 50 years and counting!”

    As the article says, “we are steadily learning more about next the Mars rover!”

    Not so much about Mars!

    At least they are honest! :)

    • Rob H.

      We’re learning a ton about Mars.

      • OWilson

        I hope so, because you have spent some $1trillion sending “cool” robot cars to Mars for 50 years now!

        At the same time you are racking up an impossible National Debt, which you are kicking down the road to generations yet unborn.

        That used to be “Taxation Without Representation”, fighting words, remember?

        Somebody has to ask these questions!

        • Benjamin Tidwell

          Annual space exploration budgets debt-creation is a drop in the bucket compared to annual defense spending & social-security Medicare/Medicaid. If you’re mad about the national debt, you’re mostly mad about older people living longer lives with modern medicine and at wars & rumors of wars that send way too much money to private contractors.
          Besides current national debt, even current global debt, might not mean much of anything anymore once mankind has commercialized & industrialized space, & begun to colonize mars, the moon, and Venus. As the humanity’s economic potential could explode a thousand fold. Technologically, we just a generation or two away from the solar system becoming everyone’s super-rich uncle if only we can get our space+legs. Opening up space as a frontier for all of humanity to exploit via durable robotics & robust automated manufacturing techniques is how our world starts moving beyond both scarcity based valuations for all essential goods & unsustainable environmental & economic practices. Every nation’s debts can be paid by the spoils of robotic conquest into the dead cold regions of space, even if they are just skimming some off the top of private enterprise thru taxation, even at a much smaller percentage than they typically take already. So, it will be a boom like the age of exploration, or the industrial revolution, or the computer revolution. What I’m saying is we are in the darkages by comparison of what is very quickly becoming possible because of robotics.

          • OWilson

            Ah, the old socialist, “drop in the bucket compared to…..” (fill in the gap!) argument for bankruptcy!

            A drop here and a drop there, and pretty soon you have a National Debt you can’t possibly pay back!

            Like now!

            A normal cyclic tick up in interest rates, and we have bank holidays, foreclosures and riots. Or State Nationalization of The Banks, like in North Korea! Or both, like in South America!

            I’m all for space exploration, but pay as you go!

            I wouldn’t sign blank cheques on your future children’s children.

            Don’t sign them on mine! :)

          • Carolyn Zaremba

            Barack Obama bailed out the United States banks instead of putting the bankers in prison, as the people of Iceland did. Taking away money from social programs and then claiming there is “no money”.

        • Tom Aaron

          Actually total of all Mars Missions to date is 41 billion…or 1/25th of a trillion. We don’t wonder that you are perplexed being so confused by numbers

          • OWilson

            Cite? :)

          • Carolyn Zaremba

            The United States mafia government and its military/industrial security state are the gangster nation, pal. Nobody else.

  • Uncle Al

    What powers the boondoggle? Solar panels accumulate dust. The battery freezes and dies. The wheels shred and founder in sand. “create better, prettier pictures than ever before.” What was there to see?

    Things do not work well because they succeed. Quality Control is futile. Things work well because they cannot fail. Quality Assurance is substantive. Ion plate the wheels with 3 microns of titanium carbonitride – 38 GPA nano-hardness,minimal fretting, and spiffy blue-grey against Martian ochre and nomadic taupe.

    I want to see an American flag on the thing. Anodize it on.

    • Joe D Pufnstuf

      In other words, you want NASA to get the heck off your lawn.

      • Uncle Al

        I want NASA to survive on commission of sales, not on a percentage of the upfront cashflow.

        • OWilson

          Same old tired product, like the IPhone, with a couple new cameras, and even a new “selfie” camera.

          Bound to keep the Kardashian society excited for a while! They won’t get the bill, though :)

          They could just as easily drop it in the Mojave Desert and play with it there! Save money, and it would be easier to clean up the mounting garbage graveyard!

          That’s one huge sign of “life”!

          • Franmon

            Check came a day later this month?

          • OWilson

            I hate to see NASA begging a ride from those “murdering killers” the Russians, for our astronauts to the Space Station, while they are spending billions on robot cars and Global Warming, is all.

            If I am considered “odd”, so be it! :)

          • Carolyn Zaremba

            More than odd. Completely delusional. The “murdering killers” are the U.S. military and its proxies, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

        • David Chipman

          “commission of sales”. Newsflash: NASA isn’t a business.

          • Uncle Al

            NASA isn’t a space agency, either.

    • Carolyn Zaremba

      I abhor nationalism. Don’t forget that it takes rockets from Russia to get astronauts to the ISS because the U.S. no longer has a shuttle program.

  • OhNoJoe

    Putin-lackey Comrade Turmp must be having a hard time accepting the fact that the good ol’ USA is light years ahead of the Russian Motherland he so loves and prays for.
    Sad! (just kidding — it’s great!)

    • Uncle Al

      The Democrat Party, having been bloodied by decent citizens, now pursues internal purges.

      Mars is a bureaucratic boondoggle re ISS FUBAR. Distilled, condensed, and crystallized essences deposited upon Venusian highlands are of tremendous interest…but only scientifically so.

    • OWilson

      So why are we lining up, waiting for Putin to give our astronauts a ride to the International Space Station on his rocket, again?

  • Tom Aaron

    It’s great the way advances in electronics on Earth add another layer of excitement to each Mars mission….and other probes. I still remember being a kid in Europe with my ear tuned to Radio Moscow or the VOA getting a report of a landing on Venus or Mars and then later being thrilled by a couple of grainy black and white photos.


    Reading comments…losing faith in humanity.

  • Mishel Susser

    So cool!!


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