NASA’s next mission involving the Mars rover will continue the hunt for life outside of earth. The 2020 mission will look for signs of ancient life in an ancient river delta. The rover is expected to launch during July 2020 and land on Mars during February 2021. The rover is hunting for signs of past life in the sediments of the Jezero crater, which used to house a 250m deep lake and a delta that flowed into the lake. The presence of the lake may have influenced and supported growth of life due to highly favourable abiotic conditions. River deltas are also extremely good at preserving biosignatures and any signs of life that may have inhabited the lake could still be preserved in the rocks that are still present at the site today.
The 2020 rover’s design reflects a design similar to that of the Curiosity rover which has been out in the field exploring another ancient lake, Gale’s crater, since 2012. The Curiosity rover has an onboard chemistry lab for studying samples within the crater, the 2020 rover will have a specialised backpack to store samples for later analysis. The samples will return to highly equipped laboratories for a thorough and precise analysis, which will increase the accuracy of the results.
The 2020 rover will also use an improved version of the Sky Crane landing system, which involved a hovering platform that lowers the rover onto the ground with a cable. The Mars 2020 version includes a high-tech navigation system that helps avoids on ground hazards such as cliffs and crevices.
Jezero crater is close to another scientific hotspot, Midway, which is only 28 kilometres away and is home to some of the most ancient sediments and rocks on Mars. During the site selection workshop in October it was proposed that both sites were to be visited in one mission, this was seen as ambitious yet still achievable. The proposition is still under works and a final decision will be made once the rover has landed safely on Mars.