It’s officially 2020, and with that in mind, anyone paying attention to NASA’s launch schedule should know already that the Mars 2020 rover is slated to launch this Summer so that we can study the red planet in our solar system with substantially greater detail than any Martian rover deployed before it.
Mars 2020 is built on almost the same chassis as the Curiosity rover, but internally, there are several upgrades that help it stand apart from its predecessor. For example, Mars 2020 comes with higher quality cameras, a sampling system that will drill into Mars’ surface and capture chunks of rock for analysis, and upgraded wheels that promise not to degrade as easily as the Curiosity rover’s have.
But it’s not just the rover itself that’s better, NASA says Mars 2020 will carry a solar-powered autonomous helicopter that will seek nearby points of interest for the rover to drive to. This is especially exciting because NASA has never sent a flying vehicle to another planet before, and it promises to advance space exploration into the next decade in ways we could only imagine several years ago.
Mars 2020 is currently sitting in a sterile clean room environment, and it’ll remain there until February when it gets shipped to Florida. Mars 2020 will then remain in Florida until it launches this Summer. The long wait ensures that the rover launches when Earth is at its closest proximity to Mars, a method of getting to the red planet that conserves fuel.
It should be interesting to see what we’ll learn about NASA from the Mars 2020 mission when it officially touches down in February 2021.