Image Credit: NASA

Curiosity is approaching its two year anniversary on the Martian surface. The newest rover has already done a lot to help us understand the Martian climate, and it still has more to do. But, that hasn't stopped NASA scientists from looking ahead and start planning for the next mission that will rove across the Martian surface.

Curiosity 2.0, a name I'm giving the new rover, will be home to lasers, ground penetrating radar, and other gadgets and gizmos that make nerds weep with joy. These instruments will work together in harmony to study the Martian surface. NASA officials stated that this rover has the best chance of finding evidence of past life on Mars, if such life ever existed. Whereas Curiosity's primary mission was to find out whether or not Mars could have ever supported life (to which the answer is yes), the new rover will be tasked with looking for biological signatures and even (potentially) sending samples back to Earth for analysis.

Curiosity 2.0 will have the same look as it's last predecessor. It'll have similar dimensions as Curiosity and it'll even land with the use of a sky crane. Instead of having 10 instruments, Curiosity 2.0 will only have 7.

The new rover will have a MastCam similar to Curiosity's. In this case, MastCam Z will have two instruments on it, a stereoscopic camera system nearly identical to Curiosity's and the "SuperCam" which is basically the ChemCam on steroids. The SuperCam will shoot lasers in circles around Curiosity (maybe not in real circles, but you know...).

Curiosity 2.0 will also have a robotic arm that will allow the rover to interact with the Martian surface. The robotic arm will have two instruments on it, the PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) and the SHERLOCK (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals). The PIXL is a spectrometer that uses X-rays and will be used mostly for analyzing rocks. SHERLOC is also a spectrometer but it's primary mission is to look for biological goodies and (hopefully) detect organic material.

Finally, sitting on the chassis of the new rover will have the remaining three pieces of equipment; MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer), RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration), and MOXIE (Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment). MEDA is a weather station that will study atmospheric conditions on Mars.  RIMFAX is the ground penetrating radar that will allow Scientists to explore beneath the Martian surface. Lastly, MOXIE is an experiment that will produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, this technology is a proof of concept for an oxygen production system for future human explorers.

In the end, the new rover is expected to cost about $1.9-billion USD (in contrast, Curiosity cost about $2.5-billion).  If all goes according to plan, It'll launch somewhere around 2020 and pick up where Curiosity left off.


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