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NASA To Launch 2020 Mars Rover Via ULA’s Atlas V

Aug 30, 2016 05:34 AM EDT

The highly anticipated Mars 2020 mission will be launched by United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Atlas V rocket, NASA announced last week.

"We are honored that NASA has selected ULA to provide another robotic science rover to Mars on this tremendously exciting mission," Laura Maginnis, vice president of Custom Services at ULA, said in a statement.

"Our launch vehicles have a rich heritage with Mars, supporting 17 successful missions over more than 50 years. ULA and our heritage rockets have launched every U.S. spacecraft to the red planet, including Mars Science Lab, as well as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers."

The mission is scheduled to be deployed to the Red Planet in July 2020, at a time when Earth and Mars are closest to each other, with just 62.1 million km apart. It will be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard ULA's Atlas V 541 rocket, which includes a 5-meter diameter payload fairing and four rocket motors.

"With 64 successful missions spanning more than a decade of operational service, the commercially developed Atlas V is uniquely qualified to provide the best value launch service for these critical science missions," Tony Bruno, CEO of ULA, said in a statement.

Mars 2020 is tasked to do geological research on the Red Planet, as well as to scan the surface for signs of habitability and to search for evidence of ancient microbial life on the planet.

The 2020 rover incorporates several features of the Curiosity rover, such as the landing system and the rover's chassis, which was created out of leftover parts originally made for Curiosity.

The rover will also have a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which was originally created as a backup part for Curiosity. But it will feature several upgraded instruments that allow better control, such as the Terrain Relative Navigation - a new landing method that allows the rover to be maneuvered during descent.

The launch of Mars 2020 will cost about $243 million, which includes the launch services contract awarded to ULA, Inverse reports. The company, which is a partnership between aerospace engineering giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has achieved a series of successful commercial space missions in the past few years, such as the launch of Delta IV Heavy and a mission for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) last July.

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