Mars 2020 was announced by NASA on 4 December 2012 at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The rover's design will be derived from the Curiosity rover, and will carry a different scientific payload. Nearly 60 proposals for rover instrumentation were evaluated and, on 31 July 2014, NASA announced the payload for the rover.
The rover is planned to be launched in 2020. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory will manage the mission. The payload and science instruments for the mission were selected in July 2014 after an open competition for payloads based on scientific objectives set one year earlier. However, the mission is contingent on receiving adequate funding. Precise mission details will be determined by the mission's science definition team.
On 9 July 2013, the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team reiterated that the rover should look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of Mars. The Science Definition Team proposed the rover collect and package as many as 31 samples of rock cores and soil for a later mission to bring back for more definitive analysis in laboratories on Earth, but in 2015 the concept was changed to distribute the tubes in small piles across the surface of Mars. As a result, a secondary rover mission may be planned; it could trail its predecessor, picking up the samples left behind.
In September 2013 NASA launched an Announcement of Opportunity for researchers to propose and develop the instruments needed, including a core sample cache. The science conducted by the rover's instruments would provide the context needed to make informed decisions about whether to return the samples to Earth. The chairman of the Science Definition Team stated that NASA does not presume that life ever existed on Mars, but given the recent Curiosity rover findings, past Martian life seems possible.
The rover can make measurements and technology demonstrations to help designers of a human expedition understand any hazards posed by Martian dust, and will test technology to produce oxygen (O2) from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Improved precision landing technology that enhances the scientific value of robotic missions also will be critical for eventual human exploration on the surface. Based on input from the Science Definition Team, NASA will select final objectives for the 2020 rover. Those will become the basis for soliciting proposals to provide instruments for the rover's science payload in the spring 2014.
As proposed, the rover will be based on the design of Curiosity. While there will be differences in scientific instruments and the engineering required to support them, the entire landing system (including the sky crane and heat shield) and rover chassis can essentially be recreated without any additional engineering or research. This reduces overall technical risk for the mission, while saving funds and time on development.
The new rover mission and launch is estimated to cost roughly US$1.5 billion, plus or minus $200 million, according to The Aerospace Corporation. The mission's predecessor, the Mars Science Laboratory, cost US$2.5 billion in total. NASA was working toward coming up with its own estimate as of the day of the announcement. NASA associate administrator of science John Grunsfeld said it was the availability of spare parts that will make the new rover affordable on NASA's lean budget. Curiosity's engineering team will also be involved in the new rover's design.
Mars Environmental Dynamic Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape. It would be provided by Spain's Centro de Astrobiología.
The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) is an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen (O2) from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This technology could be used in the future to support human life or make rocket fuel for return missions.
SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis and mineralogy in rocks and regolith from a distance. It is similar to the ChemCam on the Curiosity rover but with four scientific instruments that will allow it to look for biosignatures.
Mastcam-Z, a stereoscopic imaging system with the ability to zoom.
Mars Helicopter Scout (MHS) is a solar powered helicopter drone with a mass of 1 kg (2.2 lb) that could help pinpoint interesting targets for study and plan the best driving route. The helicopter would fly no more than 3 minutes per day and cover a distance of about 1 km (0.62 mi) daily. It has coaxial rotors, a high resolution downward looking camera for navigation, landing, and science surveying of the terrain, and a communication system to relay data to the rover.
In reaction to the announcement, California U.S. Representative Adam Schiff came out in support of the new rover mission plans, saying that "an upgraded rover with additional instrumentation and capabilities is a logical next step that builds upon now proven landing and surface operations systems." Schiff also said he favored an expedited launch in 2018 which would enable an even greater payload to be launched to Mars. Schiff said he would be working with NASA, White House administration and Congress to explore the possibility of advancing the launch date.
NASA's science chief John Grunsfeld responded that while it could be possible to launch in 2018, "it would be a push." Grunsfeld said a 2018 launch would require certain science investigations be excluded from the rover and that even the 2020 launch target would be "ambitious."
Space educator Bill Nye added his support for the planned mission saying, “We don't want to stop what we're doing on Mars because we're closer than ever to answering these questions: Was there life on Mars and stranger still, is there life there now in some extraordinary place that we haven't yet looked at? Mars was once very wet—it had oceans and lakes. Did life start on Mars and get flung into space and we are all descendants of Martian microbes? It's not crazy, and it's worth finding out. It's worth the cost of a cup of coffee per taxpayer every 10 years or 13 years to find out.” Nye also endorsed a Mars sample-return role, saying “The amount of information you can get from a sample returned from Mars is believed to be extraordinarily fantastic and world-changing and worthy."
The selection has been criticized for NASA's constant attention to Mars, and neglecting other Solar System destinations in constrained budget times.
^ abcdefghiHarwood, William (4 December 2012). "NASA announces plans for new $1.5 billion Mars rover". CNET. Retrieved 5 December 2012. Using spare parts and mission plans developed for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, the space agency says it can build and launch a new rover in 2020 and stay within current budget guidelines.
^Goudge, Timothy A.; Mustard, John F.; Head, James W.; Fassett, Caleb I.; Wiseman, Sandra M. (6 March 2015). "Assessing the Mineralogy of the Watershed and Fan Deposits of the Jezero Crater Paleolake System, Mars". Journal of Geophysical Research. doi:10.1002/2014JE004782.