(Reuters) - NASA’s next mission to Mars in 2020 will feature a souped-up unmanned rover vehicle to search for signs of ancient microbial life in areas of the uninhabitable red planet.
The successor to the 2012 Curiosity rover, which could launch in July or August 2020, will be equipped with seven new instruments and re-designed wheels, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said.
The new vehicle will study the Mars terrain, above and below the surface, and collect soil and rock samples.
“What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe,” said Ken Farley, a JPL scientist with the Mars 2020 project.
JPL is also developing a new landing technology that will allow the rover to visit sites deemed too risky for Curiosity and shave miles off its journey.
NASA has successfully landed spacecraft on Mars seven times and is using the International Space Station to prepare for human missions to the moon and Mars.
Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Sonali Desai; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Sam Holmes