NASA's next Mars rover will carry seven instruments, including one that will be able to make oxygen on Mars.
"The 2020 rover will help answer questions about the Martian environment that astronauts will face, and test technologies they need before landing on, exploring and returning from the Red Planet," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington.
Among those technologies is the The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), which will pull carbon dioxide out of Mars's atmosphere and convert it into oxygen. Scientists hope oxygen produced on Mars could one day be used to make rocket fuel or be breathed by human explorers.
Another instrument on the rover, the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), will be able to provide detailed weather measurements, including information about the size and shape of the dust blowing around on Mars.
The rover's toolkit also includes:
- Mastcam-Z, a camera system with zoom capabilities that will allow the rover to more easily plan its route.
- SuperCam, which will image and determine the chemical composition and mineralogy of rocks. It will also be able to detect organic molecules.
- Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), which will be able to detect the elemental composition of rocks on a fine scale.
- Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), which will also be used to look at the fine-scale mineralogy of rocks and detect organic compounds, using a different analytical technique from PIXL.
- The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX), ground-penetrating radar that will be able to probe the geology under the surface of Mars.
The instruments are designed to help the rover team choose a location to drill a sample that can be stored, either aboard the rover or in a sealed container, and eventually carried back to Earth for analysis. Unlike the samples drilled by its predecessor, Curiosity, that were ground up, the 2020 rover will take a solid, unbroken cylinder or core.
The Mars 2020 rover mission is the followup to the Curiosity or Mars science laboratory rover, which landed on Mars in August 2012.
The toolkit was chosen by NASA from 58 proposals — double the number received in past competitions.