Mars 2020 Rover Arrives At KSC To Prepare For Summer Launch

Mars 2020 rover artist's concept
Credit: NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL—NASA’s follow-on rover to the successful Mars Curiosity mission has arrived at Kennedy Space Center for preparations to launch this summer and join its twin for a deeper dive into possible past habitable environments on the Red Planet. 

Mars 2020, which will be renamed before launch, also will cache samples for return to Earth as part of a joint effort with the European Space Agency. 

Two Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster airlifters—carrying the Mars 2020 rover, its cruise stage, descent stage and a small helicopter that will accompany the rover—touched down at Kennedy Space Center’s former Shuttle Landing Facility shortly after 3 p.m. EST Feb. 12. 

The aircraft departed NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California—where the rover has been under assembly for two years—on Feb. 11. “The 2020 family here at JPL is a little sad to see it go, but we’re even more proud knowing that the next time our rover takes to the skies, it will be headed to Mars,” project manager John McNamee said in a statement. 

Eleven pallets containing Mars 2020 components will be transported to KSC’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, where the contents will undergo tests to ensure there was no damage during the cross-country flight. 

The spacecraft then will be reassembled, tested and encased in its protective aeroshell in late June. Launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V is scheduled for early July. 

The rover is headed toward Mars’ Jezero Crater, an ancient lake and river delta, to seek out evidence of past habitable environments and to gather and cache samples of rocks and soil for return to Earth.

Irene Klotz

Irene Klotz is Senior Space Editor for Aviation Week, based in Cape Canaveral. Before joining Aviation Week in 2017, Irene spent 25 years as a wire service reporter covering human and robotic spaceflight, commercial space, astronomy, science and technology for Reuters and United Press International.