NASA announced this week that it will launch a new rover to Mars in 2020. The vehicle will be based on its Curiosity robot, which landed on Mars back in August of this year. NASA expects to re-use many of the technologies that worked successfully in getting the spacecraft down into the equatorial bowl known as Gale Crater. The announcement was made at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, which is the largest annual gathering for Earth and planetary scientists as well as a big showcase for NASA-led research.
NASA's associate administrator for science John Grunsfeld made the announcement on behalf of the American space agency, stating:
"The new rover's going to be based on the [Curiosity] chassis, and it's really building on the tremendous success of the engineering of Curiosity. It will have new instruments. We're going to put out a letter to colleagues to ask for folks who want to be in the science definition team. And the idea is to work through the winter and spring, and have an announcement of opportunity [in] mid-summer for actual instruments, because while 2020 might seem a long way off, it's really not. Curiosity was about a decade in the works."
In recent years, NASA's budget for planetary science and in particular, Mars research, has been a bit squeezed, forcing the U.S. to pull out of commitments to two European Mars ventures in 2016 and 2018. Grunsfeld said, however, that there was scope in the financial outlook for a major mission at the end of the decade.
The 2020 Mars rover will share many of the aspects of its design with the current Curiosity robot. NASA also has a collection of spare parts left over from the build of Curiosity, among which is a spare nuclear battery.
Grunsfeld has already discussed the 2020 mission with Alvaro Gimenez Canete at the European Space Agency, who said that he was excited about the possibility of participating in the project. Grunsfeld added"
"It will be an international mission as all our missions are."
Curiosity landed on the Red Planet on August 6 with the goal of investigating Gale Crater for signs that past environments could have supported microbial life.
Due to the longevity of Curiosity's nuclear battery, it is expected that it will still be operating when the new rover arrives in 2021.