Could 2021 mark the year we find out if Mars was ever hab­it­able?

Sky at Night Magazine - - SPACE 2019 -

The tail end of 2020 is go­ing to be all about Mars, it seems, as not one, but two new rovers set out for the Red Planet, both aim­ing to land in 2021. They’ll join NASA’s Cu­rios­ity Rover and In­Sight lan­der on the sur­face as well as Op­por­tu­nity, whose fate – at the time of writ­ing – is un­cer­tain fol­low­ing a Mar­tian dust storm that ap­pears to have had a nasty ef­fect on its cir­cuits.

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is be­ing built along the lines of Cu­rios­ity – and out­wardly looks very sim­i­lar – but has a more ad­vanced col­lec­tion of in­stru­ments and cam­eras. It’ll use the same rocket-pow­ered sky­crane sys­tem as Cu­rios­ity to safely get down to the sur­face when it lands on Mars in Fe­bru­ary 2021. Once there it will wan­der across the Mar­tian soil look­ing for in­di­ca­tions of past life on the planet. The rover will tra­verse the Red Planet, col­lect­ing and stor­ing sam­ples for re­turn to Earth by a fu­ture – as yet un­con­firmed – mis­sion.

Europe mean­while will also be head­ing to Mars in 2020 with its own Ex­oMars rover. It will be equipped with a large drill that will al­low it to take sam­ples from the soil be­low Mars’s harsh sur­face en­vi­ron­ment. It will then an­a­lyse that ma­te­rial with its on-board in­stru­ments; it’ll be look­ing for clues about whether Mars has, or once had, life on it.

Europe’s Ex­oMars rover will drill down

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