Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, managed by NASA, announced instruments planned for the future Mars 2020 Rover. The craft will be designed with seven instruments, including improved lasers over technology employed on current rovers. These tools are designed to complement each other in the search for evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet.
Mars 2020 will also make use of a ground-penetrating radar to penetrate beneath the Martian crust. The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX) will provide details of the geological structure of Mars, with a resolution of less than half an inch.
The car-sized rover will be able to obtain samples of rocks on Mars for return to investigators on Earth. Research facilities here can provide far more detailed analysis than would be possible with automated laboratories aboard Martian rovers.
The Mars 2020 Rover will weigh about one ton, and have six wheels. The craft will touch down on the Martian surface through the use of a sky crane, powered by rockets.
The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment, or MOXIE, is designed to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. Being able to produce the life-giving gas from the tenuous carbon dioxide layer surrounding Mars could provide colonists a chance to manufacture their own air.
"This technology demonstration will pave the way for more affordable human missions to Mars where oxygen is needed for life support and rocket propulsion," James Reuther, deputy associate administrator at NASA, said.
Curiosity, a rover designed to search for evidence of once-habitable climates, touched down on the Red Planet in August 2012. The craft found evidence that at least one location on Mars may have once been able to support primitive life.
The SuperCam, sitting on top of the mast of the vehicle, will allow mission managers the opportunity to determine the chemical compositions of rocks at a distance. It is an updated version of the ChemCam instrument aboard the Curiosity rover. The MastCam Z will be a stereoscopic camera, able to magnify images of distant objects, like a telephoto lens.
Mars 2020 is being designed to search for biosignatures left by lifeforms, now extinct. This goal, along with the ability to make sample returns and advance a human mission in the 2030's, was mandated by a science definition team in 2013.
"The Mars 2020 rover, with these new advanced scientific instruments, including those from our international partners, holds the promise to unlock more mysteries of Mars' past as revealed in the geological record," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said.