NASA is still targeting with their new Mars rover for 2020 as final date for launching it to Mars, but over the years budget of rover project is still growing.
Project of new Mars rover already passed one of the key points in its history. It is Key Decision Point C, which means, that at the moment project’s design and fabrication procedures are accepted by NASA. Before C point, NASA accepted KDP A which covered concept and requirements acceptance and KDP B, when NASA gave acceptance for preliminary design and technology development. Now project is before last Key Decision Point (KDP D) – approval for system assembly, testing and launch; it can be said, that development of the rover entered in the last phase. NASA still keeps the schedule and plans to launch Mars rover in the half of the 2020 with planned landing on Mars surface on February 2021.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for managing whole Mars 2020 mission along with project of Mars rover. With budget planned originally for $1.5 billion in 2012 now, after passing KDP C, it was increased to $2.1 billion. It seems that this mission will at least reach level of costs of Curiosity mission, which cost NASA $2.5 billion. It is worth to remind, that according to original NASA plan, Mars 2020 should cost 40% less than Curiosity mission.
Project of the Mars 2020 rover is similar to Curiosity in many ways. Again it was designed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory and for reducing costs it was widely based on reliable Curiosity. First of all, it will be deployed on Mars surface using same system as it was used during landing of the Curiosity. Proven Sky Crane landing system will be upgraded to provide capability of landing in rough terrain; parachute system will be also modified to provide capability of performing maneuvers during landing. After touchdown in landing zone (wide for 18 km and long for 14 km), rover will start to explore Mars using maps created with images taken during reentry-it is big improvement comparing to Curiosity, which also took pictures, but was not able to use them as a map. It is serious step in increasing independence of the rover and definitely will help in avoiding surprises during exploration. Entry, descent and landing system will also utilize microphone installed on rover to help in analyzing landing process; same microphone will help in better exploration of Mars, extending our knowledge on acoustic on Red Planet. Rover will be similar in shape to Curiosity. It will weigh around 1050 kg (it was confirmed that will weigh more than Curiosity for 150 kg) and will be equipped in six wheels with very similar suspension system. Wheels construction will be modified and rover will be able to run for up to 20 km on Mars surface. Rover will be also equipped with five joints robotic arm with drill and special storage container for samples of Martian rocks and soil. After gathering samples they will be stored inside rover and in future one of the missions to Mars will give possibility to return this container to Earth. Rover will be also able to search for water and ice using special ground penetrating radar (Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment-RIMFAX). Rover will also perform series of experiments on possibility of producing oxygen from Martian atmosphere.