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The Mars 2020 rover on display at the 52nd International Paris Air Show on June 23, 2017. (Photo: Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images)

NASA's next Mars rover, the Mars 2020 rover, is set to launch in July 2020. The rover is designed to sniff out signs of past life on Mars.

Driving the news: NASA engineers are expected to install two high-definition cameras on the rover this week, per NASA. The Mastcam-Z will serve as the rover’s eyes, aiding in the spacecraft's movements and observations.

Key details about the Mars 2020 rover
  • Launch window: July 17, 2020 - Aug. 5, 2020
  • Launch location: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
  • Landing on Mars: Feb. 18, 2021
  • Landing site: Jezero Crater, Mars
  • Mission duration: At least one Mars year (687 Earth days)
  • Rover size: About 10 feet long, 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall. (Roughly the size of a car.)
  • Rover weight: 2,314 pounds
  • Launch vehicle: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V
    • Height with payload: 191 feet
    • Mass (when fueled and with spacecraft attached): About 1.17 million pounds
  • Technologies for Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL): Like NASA's Curiosity rover, the Mars 2020 rover will use a guided EDL system. However, the 2020 rover's landing system includes a parachute, descent vehicle and "skycrane maneuver" approach for lowering during the final seconds before landing that are more precise than Curiosity's were.
    • The 2020 rover will also be able to detect and avoid hazardous terrain during its descent.
  • Communication: The mission team will use NASA's Deep Space Network, an international network of antennas, that provides communication between mission teams on Earth and spacecraft.
    • There are 3 complexes placed 120 degrees apart around the world: one in Goldstone in California's Mojave Desert, one near Madrid, Spain and another near Canberra, Australia.
    • The rover also has a microphone that will allow it to record sounds on Mars.
Goals of the Mars 2020 rover

The rover's main goal is to explore the potential for life on Mars. In particular, it's looking both for conditions that suggest past life — or "past microbial life" — itself. Even if no signs of life are found, though, the rover will still help to understand whether and how future human life can develop on Mars.

  • The rover also has a drill that will collect samples of rock and solids from the planet's surface and set them aside in a cache for a future mission to collect and bring back to Earth.
  • It will also gather information to help inform future human trips to Mars — including testing methods for producing oxygen from Mars' atmosphere, identifying other resources, landing techniques and characterizing weather, dust and other environmental conditions.
Science instruments on the Mars 2020 rover

Per NASA, it includes:

  • Mastcam-Z: An advanced camera system with panoramic stereoscopic imaging capability and zoom
  • Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer: Sensors that measure temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, dust size and shape
  • Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment: Technology that will investigate producing oxygen from Mars' atmosphere's carbon dioxide
  • Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry: Will help determine the fine scale elemental composition of Mars' surface materials
  • Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration: Radar providing resolution of its geological structure
  • Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals: Help determine fine-scale mineralogy and organic compounds
  • SuperCam: Will provide imaging and chemical composition analysis
1 fun thing about the Mars 2020 rover

Earthlings can submit their names to be sent to Mars with the rover. Engineers at JPL will beam the names, each which will be the size of about one-thousandth the width of a human hair on a single chip expected to be the size of a dime, per NASA. So far, NASA has received nearly 6 million names. Submissions close on September 30.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 4 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker