The Mars 2020 rover which will fly in a few months to the red planet will not only seek there possible traces of past life, it will also serve as “precursor to a human mission on Mars”, said on Friday NASA scientists presenting the craft to the press.
The robot made its first wheel laps last week in the large sterile room of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, where it was born. It must leave Earth in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral (Florida) to land on Mars in February 2021.
“It is designed to look for signs of life, so it takes a large number of different instruments which will help us understand the geological and chemical context on the surface of Mars, and also collect samples in order to one day be able bring them back to Earth ”, summarizes for AFP Matt Wallace, deputy head of the Mars 2020 mission.
A host of sensors
Among all its equipment, a host of sensors: no less than 23 cameras, most of them high definition and in color, and two “ears” which will allow it to listen to the Martian winds and the “zap” of the lasers of its chemical analyzers .
The size of a car (3m long and 2.70m wide), the rover has six wheels like its predecessor Curiosity, to allow it to pass over rocks, but is not built for speed. He does not need it, since he only has to travel 200 meters on average per Martian day.
Equipped with a mini nuclear reactor to supply it with energy, Mars 2020 has an articulated arm that is 2.20 meters long and a drill to pulverize rock samples taken from places it has identified as suitable to certain life forms and organic molecules.
“We are looking for an ancient microbial life, billions of years ago, at a time when the planet Mars was much more like Earth, with water (liquid) on the surface, an atmosphere and a magnetic field” protecting from rays cosmic conditions that are compatible with certain single-cell life forms, explains Matt Wallace.
Once taken, the sample will be transferred inside the rover to be hermetically sealed in a tube which will be rejected until a future Martian mission takes delivery. “This is a brand new mechanism that we designed and installed on this rover, probably the most complex ever sent into space,” enthuses Steve Barajas, engineer in aseptic suit, designating the machine on which he has worked in the large “clean room” of the JPL.
“We hope to go quickly enough. We are targeting a launch in 2026 for the next mission, which would go to Mars to take the samples, would place them in a rocket that would orbit Mars, ”says Matt Wallace. “The samples would then have an appointment with an orbiter who would bring them back to Earth. We could have these samples on hand to analyze them within a decade, ”he says.
To optimize its chances of finding ancient traces of life, March 2020 will land in a crater called Jezero. The site, chosen after years of scientific debate, was a lake 500 meters deep opening onto a network of rivers 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago.
But the March 2020 mission is also turned towards the future, insists Matt Wallace. “I see it as the precursor of a human mission to Mars. We have equipment that will allow us to manufacture oxygen “from CO2 from Mars,” both for the needs of a possible human presence but also to make the oxidizing agent of a fuel allowing us to leave March for the return trip, “he said.
The mission will also test the performance of a helicopter drone to see if it is possible to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, much more tenuous than that of Earth. March 2020 must work for at least one Martian year, the equivalent of two years on Earth. But rovers have often greatly exceeded their life expectancy, like its big brother Curiosity, posed in 2012 and still active to this day.
(Afp / nxp)
Created: 28.12.2019, 01h45