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The Mars Science Lab will be launched in 2011, arriving at Mars in 2012.  This is a rover the size of a small car which is plutonium powered and will have a design life of 687 Earth days.   It will be able to travel up to 90 meters per hour with a planned speed of 30 meters per hour.    Unlike the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Pathfinder,  the Mars Science lab will not use the inflatable bag technology.   Due to the size of the vehicle it would likely not do well bouncing along the surface.    The MSL will use a new technology that will lower the rover on a tether parachute attached platform.   The rover will be lowered to the surface and released.


The landing site has not been finalized yet, but it has been narrowed down to four likely locations.  They are Eberswalde Crater, Gale Crater, Holden Crater and Mawrth Creter.   The criteria for the ideal landing site are 1) appears to be or have been a habitable environment, 2) meets engineering constraints, 3) allows acceptable navigability for the rover.

NameLocationElevationGo-To Site?
Eberswalde Crater23.86S, 326.73E-1450 mYes
Gale Crater4.49S, 137.42E-4451 mYes
Holden Crater26.37S, 325.10E-1940 mYes
Mawrth Vallis24.01N, 341.03E-2246 mNo

Science Goals

The goal of the mission is to “assess a local region on Mars' surface as a potential habitat for life, past or present”.   [http://msl-scicorner.jpl.nasa.gov/ScienceGoals/]  

Also for JPL:

“The MSL mission has four primary science objectives to meet the overall habitability assessment goal:

  • The first is to assess the biological potential of at least one target environment by determining the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds, searching for the chemical building blocks of life, and identifying features that may record the actions of biologically relevant processes.
  • The second objective is to characterize the geology of the landing region at all appropriate spatial scales by investigating the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of surface and near-surface materials, and interpreting the processes that have formed rocks and soils.
  • The third objective is to investigate planetary processes of relevance to past habitability (including the role of water) by assessing the long timescale atmospheric evolution and determining the present state, distribution, and cycling of water and CO2.
  • The fourth objective is to characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic cosmic radiation, solar proton events, and secondary neutrons.”

The Machine:

MSL Rover and Instruments

Science Gear:

Like the MER’s this rover will be loaded with lots of the most advance remote sensing gear for geology, chemistry and photography.  


The Mastcam is designed to observer the landscape around the rover and provide a visual record of the geology and topology.   Properties like the terrain, rocks, outcrops, hills, craters and frost.  These are one set of eyes of the geologist along with MARDI and MAHLI described below.   This camera will also record any atmospheric events that occur within range of the rover during daylight.

Mastam will be mounted on the remote sensing mast (RSM).  It will be 1.97meters above the rover wheels.  The camera consists of two identical 15:1 zoom digital cameras. 





ChemCam consists of two remote sensing instruments:  Laser-induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) and Remote Micro-Imager (RMI).   This combination of instruments will help scientists determine which features are of interest for further investigation. 


LIBS emits a laser pulse directed at a specific target.  The atoms that are liberated by the beam and emit light in their excited state are analyzed by the on-board spectrometer.  LIBS has a 9-meter range of operation. 


RMI users the same telescope as LIBS to take in light.  RMI maps the spectra of the general area to give LIBS measurements a context to reference.  The purpose of LIBS and RMI is to five a fast analysis of the composition of rock samples.  LIBS/RMI is specifically sensitive to hydrogen, which may be an indicator of water bound in surface rocks.  Surface water is detectable as well.



Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer:

This is an improved version of the units that flew on Pathfinder and MER 1 & 2.  APXS is an X-Ray spectrometer and is used to determine the composition of elements.   The sensor is located on the robotic arm. To take a reading the sensor head is placed within 2 cm of the sample.  The spectra are run for 15 minutes to 3 hours.   15 minutes is sufficient to record any element that comprises .5% of composition of the sample.





Mars Hand Held Imager is a focusable color digital camera that will ride on end of the robotic arm, along with a number of other insturments.  The objective of this camera is to provide high resolution (1600 x 1200) pictures at close to medium range of rocks and soil.  These images will assist the PI and team in interpretation of geological specimans.