Space

NASA selects Mars 2020 rover landing site

NASA selects Mars 2020 rover l...
Artist's impression of the Mars 2020 rover
Artist's impression of the Mars 2020 rover
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This image  of Jezero Crater delta combines information from two instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars and the Context Camera
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This image  of Jezero Crater delta combines information from two instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars and the Context Camera
Artist's impression of the Mars 2020 rover
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Artist's impression of the Mars 2020 rover

After five years, NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission has a landing site penciled in. From a list of 60 candidate sites, the space agency has chosen Jezero Crater as the touchdown point for the nuclear-powered unmanned explorer designed to seek out places where life might once have existed and collect soil and rock samples for return to Earth via a future mission.

Located in the Syrtis Major region on the western edge of Isidis Planitia at 18.855°N latitude and 77.519°E longitude, Jezero Crater is 49 km (30.4 mi) in diameter and contains a fan delta rich in clays dating back 3.6 billion years when the Red Planet had abundant water. According to NASA, its varied geology with at least five different types of rocks that include clays and carbonates could help scientists to not only answer the question about whether life ever existed on Mars, but also about the planet's evolution.

The problem is that though Jezero Crater is desirable from a scientific point of view, from an engineering point of view it's less than optimal. The area is marked by a river delta, many small craters, cliffs, as well as scattered rocks and boulders. None of these are very friendly to landing a spacecraft.

This image  of Jezero Crater delta combines information from two instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars and the Context Camera
This image  of Jezero Crater delta combines information from two instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars and the Context Camera

According to NASA, this presents many challenges to the teams tasked with bringing the Mars 2020 lander down safely, but advances since the Curiosity rover landed in 2012 allows the space agency to operate in landing zones that are half the size. The biggest advance has been the development of Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) that will provide the "sky crane" carrying the lander the ability to steer itself to avoid landing hazards. However, this still requires further analysis that will continue into late 2019 to find the precise site for the landing.

"Nothing has been more difficult in robotic planetary exploration than landing on Mars," says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "The Mars 2020 engineering team has done a tremendous amount of work to prepare us for this decision. The team will continue their work to truly understand the TRN system and the risks involved, and we will review the findings independently to reassure we have maximized our chances for success."

NASA says that there are still many decisions to be made before Mars 2020 launches in July 2020, but the selection of the landing site will help scientists to focus their plans for exploring Jezero Crater and for collecting samples.

Source: NASA

1 comment
wolfhammer
Well that's typical of NASA. They really don't have the balls to look for existing life (they already know its there) as they would have to announce it's discovery which is a can of worms they simply refuse to open. They would much rather look for past evidence of life. There's a joke out there suggesting they would knock a life-form out the way with their drill to get at the spot they wanted to drill as the life-form and dealing with it is outside their brief. They would instead ignore it as an anomoly and move on.