August 25, 2016 – NASA’s Launch Services Program announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) proven Atlas V vehicle to launch Mars 2020, its next robotic science rover. This award resulted from a competitive procurement under the NASA Launch Services contract.
“We are honored that NASA has selected ULA to provide another robotic science rover to Mars on this tremendously exciting mission,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA’s vice president of Custom Services. “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 Mars 2020 mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This mission will launch aboard an Atlas V 541 vehicle, which includes a 5-meter diameter payload fairing and four solid 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,” said Tory Bruno, ULA CEO and president.
The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet, and will address high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.
Additionally, scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to identify and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes, and leave them on the surface of Mars for potential return to Earth by a future mission to the Red Planet.
The mission will build on the achievements of Curiosity and other Mars Exploration Program missions, and offer opportunities to deploy new capabilities developed through investments by NASA’s Space Technology Program and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, as well as contributions from international partners.
The Mars 2020 rover mission presents new opportunities to learn how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the land could reduce costs and engineering challenges posed by Mars exploration.
ULA also will launch NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to Mars in May 2018.
United Launch Alliance has its headquarters in Centennial, Colorado.