NASA Shortlists Landing Sites For Future Mars Rover Mission

Posted: Feb 11 2017, 11:23am CST | by , Updated: Feb 11 2017, 11:34am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA Shortlists Landing Sites for Future Mars Rover Mission
NE Syrtis, one of the three candidates of 2020 Mars rover mission. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
 

National space agency has narrowed down from eight to three the list of potential landing sites for its 2020 rover mission

NASA is getting closer to picking landing site for 2020 Mars rover mission. The agency has narrowed down the list of potential landing sites for Mars mission from eight to three in the third workshop held at Monrovia, California on February 10. The three sites include Jezero crater, Northeast Syrtis and Columbia Hills.

In August 2015 workshop, NASA shortlisted initial Mars locations and selected 8 high-priority sites from the pool of 54 candidates. The final decision will be made a year or two before the departure. 

Scientists and engineers are relying on the observations of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to decide which site is suitable to descend down and to scoop up samples from Martian soil. 

This could be just a single opportunity to touch down at a site on Mars, so they had to get it right. 

“From the point of view of evaluating potential landing sites, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the perfect spacecraft for getting all the information needed," said workshop's co-chair, Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. "You just can't overstate the importance of MRO for landing-site selection.”

NASA had already outlined criteria for evaluating potential landing sites for Mars 2020 rover mission. The space agency wants a landing site which was once habitable, showing signs of water or other biomarkers so the rover will get a chance to discover evidence of any life in the past. Secondly, it should be easy to traverse, so that the rover can move safely and freely without any fall off of a cliff.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has obtained more than 224,000 images and numerous other observations during its nearly 50,000 orbits around Mars. The data can be helpful in selecting the best candidate for the mission.

“Whether it is looking at the surface, the subsurface or the atmosphere of the planet, MRO has viewed Mars from orbit with unprecedented spatial resolution, and that produces huge volumes of data," said MRO Project Scientist Rich Zurek of JPL. “These data are a treasure trove for the whole Mars scientific community to study as we seek to answer a broad range of questions about the evolving habitability, geology and climate of Mars.”

Mars 2020 Rover is the size of a car, has six wheels and a robotic arm. The rover is equipped with cutting-edge scientific instruments to search for past microbial life, analyze rock samples and help prepare for human exploration of Mars.

The rover will be launched in the summer of 2020 and will land on the Red Planet in February 2021 after traveling for seven months through space.

 

 

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