The new rover is looking for bona fide signs of life.
NASA is planning a new unmanned Mars mission for some time in 2020. The mission, aptly named “Mars 2020,” will feature a brand new Mars-ready surface rover to follow up on the previous one, Curiosity.
According to Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace, “This is the one we have been working toward.” The new rover is one of the most complex pieces of exploration machinery NASA has ever created, its assembly having been likened to a complex Swiss watch. Fittingly for such an advanced machine, the new rover has a price tag of $2.5 billion. The as-of-yet unnamed rover is roughly the same size as Curiosity, but weighs about 278 pounds more. Where previous rovers were more focused on geological analysis, the new rover specializes in live sample analysis. It can grab supposedly live soil samples, give them a good once-over, then store them in a special tube, where they will be retrieved during another mission projected for around 2026. If we can successfully retrieve these soil samples, we could get an in-depth look at Mars’ biological makeup for the very first time in human history. It’d be a pretty big deal.
NASA is hoping to launch the new rover this coming July, and assuming nothing goes horribly wrong in transit, activate it in Mars’ Jezero Crater some time the following February.