An Instrument On NASA's Next Mars Rover Aims To Create Oxygen From Carbon Dioxide

Scientists also hope to collect rock samples that a future mission could bring back to Earth.

NASA unveiled more details of its Mars 2020 rover Thursday, selecting seven instruments to investigate the Red Planet and pave the way for human exploration.

Joining Curiosity and Opportunity in 2020, the rover's payload will carry instruments that will cost about $130 million to develop. One of the major goals of NASA's next Mars rover is to process the atmosphere's carbon dioxide into oxygen for human breathing and potentially to oxidize rocket fuel. Scientists also hope to collect rock and soil samples that a future mission could bring back to Earth.

The selected proposals for these instruments include:

  • a camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capabilities
  • an instrument that can image and analyze chemical composition and mineralogy
  • an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to analyze element composition of Mars's surface
  • a spectrometer that uses an ultraviolet laser to detect organic compounds and determine fine-scale mineralogy
  • an instrument that aims to produce oxygen from Mars's carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere
  • sensors to measure temperature, wind speed, wind direction, pressure, relative humidity, dust size, and dust shape
  • a radar that provides centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure beneath the planet's surface

"The Mars 2020 rover, with these new advanced scientific instruments, including those from our international partners, holds the promise to unlock more mysteries of Mars’ past as revealed in the geological record," John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement. "This mission will further our search for life in the universe and also offer opportunities to advance new capabilities in exploration technology."

[Image courtesy of Nasa]

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