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Proposed Science Objectives for a Mars 2020 Rover

The objectives of this mission are currently under consideration. Based on the recommendations of the Science Definition Team, the Mars 2020 rover mission would have the following five potential objectives. Requiring both orbital and ground observations, the first three objectives have strong synergy, as they are linked by the need to decipher the geological processes and history of an "astrobiologically relevant ancient environment, " a place once capable of either supporting life as we know it or sustaining pre-biological processes leading to an origin of life.

Science Resources

Current Planning Stage:
Science Definition
     SDT Report - July 2013 (ZIP, 11 MB)
     SDT FAQs (PDF, 29 KB)
     Science Definition Team
     Science Objectives

Other Links of Interest
Science Instruments

Here's what the Mars 2020 rover would do:

Objective A: Habitability
Objective B: Biosignatures
Objective C: Sample Caching
Objective D: Prepare for Humans

Mars 2020 Science Objective A:

Characterize the processes that formed and modified the geologic record within a field exploration area on Mars selected for evidence of an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment and geologic diversity.

Mars 2020 Science Objective B:

Perform the following astrobiologically-relevant investigations on the geologic materials at the landing site:

  • Determine the habitability of an ancient environment.
  • For ancient environments interpreted to have been habitable, search for materials with high biosignature preservation potential.
  • Search for potential evidence of past life using the observations regarding habitability and preservation as a guide.

Mars 2020 Science Objective C:

Assemble a returnable cache of samples for possible future return to Earth.

  • Obtain samples that are scientifically selected, for which the field context is documented, that contain the most promising samples identified in Objective B and that represent the geologic diversity of the field site.
  • Ensure compliance with future needs in the areas of planetary protection and engineering so that the cache could be returned in the future if NASA chooses to do so.
  • Read About Adaptive Caching >>

Mars 2020 Science Objective D:

Contribute to the preparation for human exploration of Mars by making significant progress towards filling at least one major Strategic Knowledge Gap. The highest priority SKG measurements that are synergistic with Mars 2020 science objectives and compatible with the mission concept are (in priority order):

  1. Demonstration of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies to enable propellant and consumable oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere for future exploration missions.
  2. Characterization of atmospheric dust size and morphology to understands its effects on the operation of surface systems and human health.
  3. Surface weather measurements to validate global atmospheric models.

Synergies Between Planetary Science Objectives & Human Exploration Objectives

Synergies Between Planetary Science Objectives &
Human Exploration Objectives

Planetary Science

Human Exploration

Objectives A, B, and C for the Mars 2020 mission address unknowns about Mars (Strategic Knowledge Gaps) that would otherwise make human exploration riskier and more costly.

  • Images and chemistry studies at large and fine scales would provide information about dust effects on engineered systems, potential hazards at landing sites, and potential mineral resources astronauts could use.
  • The Mars 2020 rover mobility system would provide information on how easy it is to move across the Martian surface (trafficability).  It could also be used for trenching experiments (digging the rover’s wheels into the Martian “dirt”) to understand the structure of the ground.  This information would help engineers understand landing hazards of soft vs. hard terrain, as well as how easy it might be to dig for resources such as subsurface water-ice.

While not new measurements, they would add to the knowledge gained from other landed Mars missions at different sites.  This comparison helps mission planners understand conditions human explorers would face, allowing them to retire some risks and strategically plan to reduce others.

Objective D for the Mars 2020 mission supports 2 Mars Exploration Program Science Goals and Objectives:

Goal 2: Characterize the Martian Climate, Objective A: Characterize the Martian Atmosphere, Present Climate, and Climate Processes

  • Oxygen production from the atmosphere would potentially help scientists understand the Martian dust cycle.
  • A surface weather station would extend an understanding of the Martian atmosphere, especially if linked to orbital measurements.

Goal 4, Prepare for Human Exploration

  • A descent imaging camera similar to that used on the Mars Science Laboratory mission, would contribute to understanding the Martian atmosphere through measurements during entry, descent, and landing (EDL).  Data collected would be vital to landing large payloads (e.g., habitat modules, a crewed vehicle) safely on the Martian surface.