WASHINGTON — NASA has budgeted about $130 million for a seven-instrument science payload announced July 31 for the sample-caching Mars rover the agency plans to launch in 2020. The price tag does not include the cost of three of the selected instruments that will be provided, in full or in part, by France, Norway and Spain.

The Mars 2020 rover — which NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld said will cost about $1.9 billion to build and launch — will have three fewer science instruments than the Curiosity rover on which it is based. The science payload on Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since its Aug. 6, 2012, landing, cost NASA just over $180 million.

But despite a lower price tag for Mars 2020’s U.S. instruments, NASA science officials maintain the rover’s 40-kilogram science payload will actually give scientists more bang for their buck relative to Curiosity.

“From a measurement standpoint … this really is a souped-up instrument suite compared to Curiosity,” Grunsfeld said during a July 31 press conference announcing the instrument selections.

The seven instruments were selected from among 58 proposals. The winning instruments, according to NASA’s press release, are:

  • Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The principal investigator is James Bell of Arizona State University in Phoenix.
  • SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis and mineralogy. The principal investigator is Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. This instrument also has a significant contribution from the French space agency, CNES.
  • The Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain a high-resolution imager to determine the fine scale elemental composition of martian surface materials. The principal investigator is Abigail Allwood of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
  • The Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals, a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. The principal investigator is Luther Beegle of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  • The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resources Utilization Experiment, funded by NASA’s human spaceflight division. This instrument will attempt to produce oxygen from Mars’ atmospheric carbon dioxide. The principal investigator is Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer, a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape. The principal investigator is Jose Rodriguez-Manfredi of Spain’s Center of Astrobiology.
  • The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Exploration, a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the martian subsurface. The principal investigator is Svein-Erik Hamran of Norway’s Forsvarets Forskning Institute.


Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.