Large international interest in riding with NASA’s next Rover

by Chris Bergin

The next NASA rover to be sent to the surface of Mars has received twice the usual amount of proposals for carrying science and exploration technology instruments. The agency is reviewing a total of 58 submitted proposals, 17 of which came from international partners, ahead of a proposed mission in 2020.

The 2020 Rover:

Announced at the end of 2012, the next NASA rover will be based on the Curiosity Rover that is currently exploring the surface of Mars.

With the dual success of the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), Opportunity – which will this week celebrate 10 years on the Red Planet – and Spirit, NASA’s achievements continue to up the stakes like never before – not least the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) element of safely landing the one ton Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) on the surface of Mars, utilizing the amazing SkyCrane method.

Curiosity’s success also confirmed NASA’s dominance in enabling successful missions to Mars, with the Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft currently orbiting Mars, and the MAVEN orbiter, recently sent to study the Martian upper atmosphere.

In 2016, a Mars lander mission called InSight will launch to take the first look into the deep interior of Mars. The agency also is participating – albeit in a reduced capacity – in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions.

The next NASA Rover has been touted as a key ingredient toward the main NASA goal of landing humans on Mars in the 2030s, although its array of mission objectives are yet to be fully decided.

That – in part – will be decided upon via the instrumentation that will ride to Mars on the rover, with NASA requesting proposals to that end between September and January 15. The interest has been twice that previously seen for missions to Mars.

“Proposal writing for science missions is extremely difficult and time consuming.  We truly appreciate this overwhelming response by the worldwide science and technical community and are humbled by the support and enthusiasm for this unique mission,” noted John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington, on Tuesday.

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“We fully expect to be able to select an instrument suite that will return exciting science and advance space exploration at Mars.”

Several NASA facilities, academia, industry, research laboratories, and other government agencies submitted proposals. However, out of the 58 submissions, seventeen proposals came from international partners.

While the instrument suite that will win through to becoming installed on the new rover is now under review, the primary focus will follow on and compliment the current Curiosity mission, conducting geological assessments of the rover’s landing site, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.

Associating the rovers with the ultimate goal of human explorers on the Red Planet has additional focus with the 2020 Rover, with the science instruments also enabling scientists to identify and select a collection of rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth in the future.

Sample return is a key priority in the science community, as recommended by the National Research Council’s 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

NASA leaders also associate the rover with the goal of further understanding the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate how to collect carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could be a valuable resource for producing oxygen and rocket fuel.

Z12Being able to “live off the land” will be a huge advantage for Martian explorers, based on reducing the amount of supplies that would need to be launched from Earth. Robotic precursor missions have always been a major factor in human exploration studies.

“NASA robotic missions are pioneering a path for human exploration of Mars in the 2030s,” added William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

“The Mars 2020 rover mission presents new opportunities to learn how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the land could reduce costs and engineering challenges posed by Mars exploration.”

Z151NASA teams are still evaluating the long-term human exploration roadmap, with L2 Concept Of Operations (Con Ops) documentation showing the Agency continues to hold interest in targeting a human expedition to one of Mars’ moons – Deimos, or more likely Phobos – before taking on a landing on the Red Planet.

Z11Along with the obvious challenges in paying for such flagship missions, technology relating to the transportation of humans into deep space, along with keeping them alive on the surface, has to be advanced.

Using the robotic missions to learn more about such goals is seen as a key goal.

“New and more advanced space technologies are essential for future human expeditions to the Red Planet,” added Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology.

“These technologies will enable the life support and transportation resources needed for future astronauts to live and work on Mars.”

(Images: Via NASA and L2 content from L2’s SLS specific L2 section, which includes, presentations, videos, graphics and internal – interactive with actual SLS engineers – updates on the SLS and HLV, available on no other site).

(L2 is – as it has been for the past several years – providing full exclusive SLS and Exploration Planning coverage. To join L2, click here:

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