The US space agency NASA has its sights on Mars in the new year, which will lead to the launch of the Mars 2020 rover in July. The successor to the Marswagen Curiosity and Opportunity continues the search for life on the red planet.
In 1994, NASA announced the Mars Exploration Program (MEP). With the MEP the Americans want to learn more about Mars: how did Mars originate and build up? Is or was there life? Can we as humans start living there?
It may take many years before people first set foot on the red rock of Mars. Until then, NASA is focusing on exploration with robots. Mars 2020 was preceded by various satellites, landers and robbers. The last Mars landing was done by the InSight lander, who conducts various geological surveys on and in the surface of Mars.
Mars 2020 not only conducts field research, it also prepares research on earth. Where the Curiosity, for example, was able to pick up pieces of land for analysis on board, Mars 2020 can make 'packets' of potentially interesting stones and soil samples.
These packages leave the rover on the surface, after which a potential next mission can collect these packages and send them back to Earth. What this Marspakketdienst will look like, is not yet known.
See also: NASA's InSight mission lands on Mars, but how does that work?
Rover is also investigating conditions for astronauts on Mars
Mars 2020 also needs to do experiments to enable future human landings on the planet.
For example, the car has an experiment on board to make oxygen from the atmosphere on Mars and the vehicle, for example, performs weather measurements to find out what astronauts may encounter during their stay on the planet.
Mid-December 2019, Mars 2020 made its first test drive in a laboratory in the US state of California. The next time the vehicle drives, it will be on Mars.
The launch of the car takes place between July 17 and August 5, when the position of the earth in relation to the red planet is the most favorable. If all goes well, the car will arrive in February of 2021.
The Mars 2020 rover in the California laboratory. An engineer measures how much light reaches certain parts of the car. (Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech)
Rover is accompanied by first Mars helicopter and European vehicle
Mars 2020 will be accompanied by an experimental Mars helicopter, with a hull the size of a kettle. The vehicle will not do scientific experiments, the developers just want to know if the concept works.
The atmosphere of Mars is only 1 percent of the earth's atmosphere, which means that the air pressure on the red planet is considerably less. This makes flying difficult, because with less air pressure a helicopter can generate less lift power to take off.
If the helicopter works, NASA wants to use more vehicles like this to explore the difficult landscape of Mars.
NASA will not be the only one to send a vehicle to Mars in July. The European Space Agency (ESA) will then launch the Rosalind Franklin rover, which is also looking for traces of life on Mars. This will be the first European vehicle on Mars.
95NASA helicopter is ready for trip to Mars