The NASA teams working on the Mars 2020 rover mission have enlisted a fourth candidate landing site for evaluation. The newly discovered site has been named “Midway” as it lies roughly halfway between two other candidate landing locations- Jezero delta and Northeast Syrtis. The Columbia Hills region of Gusev Crater is the third identified landing location candidate. The names of the three finalists were announced last year at the third 2020 rover landing site workshop.
John Mustard, who is a professor in the Department of Earth Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University, said that Midway is relatively close to Jezero and has the same morphologic units as Northeast Syrtis.
“It has emerged from Mars 2020 science team members I believe brainstorming on possibly getting two birds with one rover,” Mustard said.
The NASA Mars 2020 rover mission entry, descent, and landing experts are currently evaluating the landing-site safety of the finalized candidates. The final site selection will likely be announced in early 2019.
The main work of Mars 2020 rover will be to land on the Red planet, drill and scoop soil samples from the Martian surface, collect them in the canister and drop them off at several depot points. The task of collecting Martian soil samples left behind by the Mars 2020 rover will be completed by a separate fetch rover, which will likely be developed by Airbus.
The European Space Agency has just awarded a $5.2 million contract to Airbus to create a concept design for a separate sample collection rover. Notably, the first stage of designing the fetch rover is a feasibility study to determine if it’s possible to even conduct this operation with current technology.
The Mars 2020 rover is currently scheduled to launch on board an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida in July 2020. The spacecraft is expected to land on the Red Planet in February 2021.