At first glance, the Mars 2020 may look like a subspecies of the Curiosity Rover but, the rover that could determine if there was life on Mars, has been seriously levelled up and NASA is finally building it.
Humanity is now much closer to seeing this advanced tech in action because the brains at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have just started assembling the cruise and descent stages of the Mars 2020 mission.
The rover will soar through space in its cruise stage, then enter descent with a rocket-powered "sky crane" that will lower it toward the surface until it touches down.
This latest rover is basically the Curiosity rover on steroids, with revamped wheels for braving rocks and craters, plus seven new instruments, including a drill to dissect rock cores for samples and a caching system that will use a creepy-cool robotic arm to seal up that material and either send it back to Earth or leave it in the Martian dust for a future human mission. The rover will be equipped with an ultraviolet laser that can detect excited carbon atoms (which could be the remnants of ancient carbon-based life forms) from their otherworldly glow.
The Mars 2020 will know exactly where to go and what to seek out without always having commands beamed from the home planet.
It is the closest thing to putting boots on Mars for science until we can send humans.
The Mars 2020 will inherit much of its predecessor's structure and use pre-existing concepts despite a drastically different mission objective that focuses on unearthing potential evidence of life that could have thrived 3.5 billion years ago.
"The fact that so much of the hardware has already been designed – or even already exists – is a major advantage for this mission," said NASA Mars Exploration Program director, Jim Watzin. "It saves us money, time, and most of all reduces risk."
"Terrain-relative navigation enables us to go to sites that were ruled too risky for Curiosity to explore," said JPL’s Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead, Al Chen. "The range trigger lets us land closer to areas of scientific interest, shaving miles – potentially as much as a year – off a rover's journey."
This is proof of how much the mission's computer will be able to think for itself. Its digital vision will compare the surface with terrain maps, that have already been downloaded so more dangerous areas can be ruled out.
Where the Mars 2020 lands will depend on what could be unearthed at a certain site, in the meantime, have a look at the video below to learn more about the Mars 2020.