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New Mars rover is GO for 2020 says NASA

This time we'll hear the sounds of Mars, if the enhanced Sky Crane works

All being well, NASA will launch the successor to Curiosity Rover in 2020. And this time the agency hopes to prepare samples for an as-yet-blue-sky manned mission that could one day return them to Earth for analysis.

NASA says its Mars Rover 2020 project has passed a “significant milestone” – Key Decision Point (KDP) C – which means it's ready for construction to start.

If they ever meet, Curiosity Rover will recognise the Mars Rover 2020 as a relative, since the agency's program executive for the project George Tahu notes that it uses a “significant amount” of “heritage components” from the older project (helping both with budget and timing).

One of those heritage components is an improved version of the "Sky Crane" that successfully landed Curiosity in 2012.

A “range trigger” will let NASA stipulate both location and velocity for the parachute opening (Curiosity's 'chute was triggered velocity alone), cutting down the landing area by half; and terrain-relative navigation during the landing will spot and eliminate unsafe areas below, giving the 2020 mission more choice about where it lands.

The new rover will boast a mast conducting three types of spectroscopy on rocks and soil from a distance, to help try and spot signs of life; there will be weather and dust sensors on the rover's deck; and a ground-penetrating radar (We discussed its new science experiments in 2014).

Space-watchers will be pleased to know that the rover will send back video and sound of its 2021 arrival. While that microphone won't be the first to go to Mars it is intended to be the first to send back the planet's atmospheric sounds.

The roughly seven-year timeline of the project – NASA first went public with its 2020 plans in 2013 – is very close to the eight years it took to get Curiosity from concept to the planet.

Curiosity is clearly thrilled at the prospect of sharing the planet:

NASA's announcement is here. ®

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