Washington: NASA’s nuclear-powered Mars rover, slated to launch in 2020, will be smarter and more efficient than Curiosity, which is currently exploring the red planet, scientists say.
NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission is expected to explore a select site that is geologically diverse and to seek out signs of past life.
The rover will also collect Mars samples and drop them off at a preselected point, from where years later, those samples would be scooped up by a mission to deliver the specimens back to Earth, ‘Space.Com’ reported.
The future Mars rover mission is billed as leveraging the successful architecture of NASA’s Curiosity rover/Mars Science Laboratory mission, including its entry, descent and landing system and much of its rover platform.
The Mars 2020 development effort is a combination of the “old” and the “new,” said Gentry Lee, chief engineer for Solar System Exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.
The Mars 2020 mission will carry a scientific payload that includes new remote-sensing and contact-science instruments, Lee said.
Mission engineers said that the Mars 2020 system is changing as its design is refined. The rover’s wheels are getting heavier, with the robot’s body becoming a little longer. That may change the rover’s mobility system and how it interacts with the ground, they said.
“We are really looking at ways to make this largely heritage, built-to-print rover drive faster and do more science on the surface of Mars,” said Jennifer Trosper, JPL’s mission manager on Mars 2020.
The Mars 2020 team is confronting the issue of wheels. Curiosity has been battling wear and tear on its wheels.
The future rover will also have machinery on Mars that is far speedier on complex terrain than Curiosity, Trosper said.
By adding an onboard processor to run autonavigation algorithms, the rover would be driving – and spending far less time thinking about driving, she said.
“We can actually spend much less percentage of the mission traversing to interesting science sites and actually do contact science at those sites,” Trosper said.
“We are putting some things onboard the vehicle to make it smarter so we don’t have to be so conservative on the ground – to make this surface mission more productive,” Trosper said.
Adopting these changes and other measures, she added, would make mission efficiency jump from Curiosity’s roughly 55 per cent to 80 per cent, up to 95 per cent for the Mars 2020 robot.