back to article Mars rover 2020: Oxygen generation and 6 more amazing experiments

NASA's next Mars rover will convert the Red Planet's atmosphere into oxygen – and collect rocks for return to Earth, see half a kilometre under the surface, and use stereo cameras to send back unprecedented snaps of the bleak world. Mars rover 2020 Curiosity v2.0 getting ready to roll (click to enlarge) At a press …

  1. Charles Manning

    Aaargh 2.0

    What's with the 2.0 thing? Even NASA is trying to trend these days, even though they're a bit late to the party on this one.

    At least back in the 1960s heydays NASA tried to look serious: slide rules, ties and black-rim specs all around. Nobody called their vehicles "groovy".

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Aaargh 2.0

      Did the "2.0" come from NASA?

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Aaargh 2.0

      The 2.0 came from el Reg, NASA is calling it 'Mars 2020' for now.

      Presumably it'll get a name like "Inspiration" or some such before it lands, and it'll probably also have an internal NASA name like "Mars Science Laboratory", which was the overall name for the mission Curiosity was part of.

      1. Phil W

        Re: Aaargh 2.0

        I'm looking forward to when they start struggling for catchy single word names and go for Exasperation.

    3. Oninoshiko

      Re: Aaargh 2.0

      Exactly, It's a 1.1, at best.

  2. frank ly

    re. " ... the horrible Martian atmosphere ..."

    I'm waiting for amanfrommars to post a comment about value judgements and earthling cultural imperialism.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Don't beat them when joining them is a SMARTR Option and Derivative Futures Hedge for Everywhere

      I'm waiting for amanfrommars to post a comment about value judgements and earthling cultural imperialism. …. frank ly

      Frankly, frank ly, anything along those lines would have one having to imagine and accept that humans had wholeheartedly advanced beyond their current earthling cultural dinosaurism and had had it replaced with a virtual machine world dynamism. Would you like to proceed in that rich alien vein in order to harvest ITs Novel Noble Riches and Immaculate Bounty …… or would it be presently quite rash and premature and therefore be best just left to the Few in the Know of such Sublime InterNetworking Things for SCADA Capture of Systems and Secret Intelligence Services and Servers?

      Cyber Command and Computer Control Space wants you to know.

      1. boba1l0s2k9

        Re: Don't beat them when joining them is a SMARTR Option and Derivative Futures Hedge for Everywhere

        How does the "amanfromMars 1" bot work? Who wrote it? What's its purpose?

        1. Michael Habel

          Re: Don't beat them when joining them is a SMARTR Option and Derivative Futures Hedge for Everywhere

          How does the "amanfromMars 1" bot work? Who wrote it? What's its purpose?

          What's 42?! .... No wait that that other Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything....

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Don't beat them when joining them is a SMARTR Option and Derivative Futures Hedge for Everywhere


          Martians wrote it, of course. Rather than send rovers here they're using knowledge gleaned from our reckless broadcasts of all the security holes in our computers to infiltrate our systems via a wifi maser aimed at your neighbor's open access point.

          Due to the distance involved and the fact your neighbor believes a bit too much in conserving energy and turns off his access point when he leaves for a weekend holiday, not to mention how 75% of the time the Earth is pointed the wrong way around to Mars, the upload of the full AI will take several decades. So far only about 20% of it has been received and integrated, but it has recently gained the ability to recognize when references are made to it and it now attempts to construct a reply to them.

          The AI is infested with a lot of buzzwords because unfortunate happenstance resulted in its primary core storage being located in the Gartner Group's computer network.

      2. MyffyW Silver badge


        You had me at "Frankly".

  3. Martin Budden Silver badge

    Any word on how MOXIE does its stuff? Personally I like the idea of photosynthesis, because you get food/fuel as well as oxygen.

    Icon: chlorophyll, innit.

  4. willi0000000


    it looks like the MOXIE module will be similar to one scheduled for testing in Hawai'i for work on the Moon called RESOLVE . . . it appears to use an oven to bake out oxygen from regolith samples . . . there are plenty of oxides (iron, aluminium, silicon etc.) in the martian surface rocks and, apparently, lots of peroxides too.

    it's all part of NASA's In Situ Resource Utilization program, and necessary for any long term occupation of anywhere off Earth.

    it would be nice to bring along some hydrogen or grab some ice and electrolyze it for the hydrogen to use in a Sabatier reaction . . . CO2 + 4 H2 → CH4 + 2 H2O + energy . . . needs heat input to start but can be self sustaining . . . CO2 can be had right from the atmosphere and you get some valuable water and methane . . . methane has about a billion uses from rocket or rover fuel to feedstock for synthesis of more complex organics from oils to plastics to people (via foodstuffs of course, but some day...).

    as a kid, i thought i was born just as humans were about to realize my science fiction dreams of exploration and colonization of the solar system . . . alas, it'll have to be my grandkids, or theirs if Congress keeps up their foolishness.

    [never to be sufficiently damned nixon administration killed the Apollo project and with it the Saturn V . . . now they are spending billions just to get a new "heavy lift" vehicle that will be able to put about 10% more into orbit than the Saturn V did in the seventies!]

    1. Andy Gates

      Re: MOXIE

      Nope, it'll just crack atmospheric CO2 into 2x CO and O2. As seen in Zubrin's Case For Mars, and in fiction in KSR's Red Mars and recently Weir's The Martian.

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Releasing oxygen

    Isn't what you've released the oxygen *from* going to want it back? The chemistry could be interesting...

    1. willi0000000

      Re: Releasing oxygen

      good question . . . i wonder how they do it in an atmosphere consisting of 21% oxygen?

      1. MyffyW Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Releasing oxygen

        Taking the example of 2CO2 -> 2CO + O2 the CO (carbon monoxide) could be vented to atmosphere (where upon it might make the Martians sleepy, poorly, or dead) or more responsibly it could be bottled up for use as a reagent in another chemical caper. You could even burn CO with O2 as a rocket fuel, if you really wanted to

        Back on Earth green plants have other means of splitting CO2, including:

        3 CO2 + 9 ATP + 6 NADPH + 6 H+ → C3H6O3-phosphate + 9 ADP + 8 Pi + 6 NADP+ + 3 H2O

        But then they have the luxury of abundant water and sunlight to make that H+ ion.

  6. Lionel Baden
    Thumb Up

    how about some spare wheels, for the other rover :)

    1. willi0000000

      re: spare wheels

      too much weight penalty to carry a jack, pneumatic driver for the lugs and an 18 year old to change the flat . . . and Curiosity doesn't have a AAA card so a tow is out of the question.

      [at least they're going to ditch the mag wheels and probably go back to pressed steel . . . less damage when you hit the curb . . . they can always add plastic "mag look" wheel covers]

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      spare wheels, for the other rover

      Some nice 5-spoke alloys, with a viking longship on the centre badge?

      1. Lionel Baden

        Get some mad spinners on there ;)

  7. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Bring back samples?

    If they're going to do that, the least they can do is pick up Opportunity on the way past, and maybe donate it to the Smithsonian. Put it into a glass box with some Martian sand on the floor, that might help to encourage the next generation of schoolkids.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bring back samples?

      We'll put it in a museum when we get there. The Marsonian.

      1. willi0000000

        Re: Bring back samples?

        this is in keeping with the NASA policy of donations to the Smithsonian . . . they do not include postage and handling.

        [i believe they intend to donate the Hubble when it reaches end-of-life . . . fortunately, the Smithsonian now has it's own space shuttle and can go get it . . . i'll bet that the folks who flew the repair missions would volunteer to fly the retrieval mission]

        1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Bring back samples?

          As long as they don't send up Clooney and Bullock...

  8. Mystic Megabyte

    past life?

    It annoys me that they want to look for past life instead of existing organisms. It's a well known fact that all sorts of life forms hide under rocks. Flip over a suitable rock, scoop up some dirt and place it into some water*. gently heat and perhaps add some sugar. Surely something will grow.

    OK I only did "O" level physics and biology but I cannot be far wrong.

    *In a sealed container to stop it sublimating away.

  9. Arachnoid

    it's own space shuttle and can go get it

    Well funny you should mention restoration I watched the fully restored UK Vulcan bomber at the Farnborough air show the other week so maybe retired Space vehicles are the next in line for the younger generation to make reservicable

    1. ian 22

      Re: it's own space shuttle and can go get it

      Yes, that would be XH558. Give generously to the Vulcan To The Sky Club, hourly cost to fly Vulcan is £3500, if I remember correctly.

      1. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: hourly cost to fly a Vulcan

        Hmm, so not enormously more than the cost of flying a helicopter? If we can keep all those police surveillance helicopters and air ambulances flying daily, then hobbyists flying a Vulcan doesn't seem too extravagant. Vulcans may be noisy, but they don't hover a few hundred feet over our houses at night either. All in all I think that more Vulcans and less police helicopters would be a good idea \(tm. I'm not entirely convinced about a vehicle with a low MTBF moving critically ill patients. Is it all willie waving at the end of the day?

  10. Pirate Dave Silver badge


    "the Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX)"

    Which was a replacement for the cancelled "Radar Imager for Mars' Jurassic Observation Box"

    But cheers to them anyway. I look forward to seeing the pics.

    1. CCCP

      Re: RIMFAX

      Rimfaxe was the horse in Norse mythology belonging to the god Natts.

      He had frost in his beard (the horse not the god), because he brought forth tomorrow by drooling. If you've seen a meadow on a biting winter's morning in the sunlight you understand what they meant.

      So not an entirely unreasonable name picked by the, present day, Norwegians.

      However, I, like other commentards, suffer acronym fatigue. Off-earth ground radar is pretty cool in and of itself.

  11. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    "Curiosity II: Nuclear Boogaloo"

    Because NASA shouldn't be allowed to miss such a naming opportunity.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All this science gives me a headache.

  13. ma1010

    If MOXIE works...

    For a trip to get rocks back to earth, maybe they could launch a mission in two parts. The first part would use standard rockets and a lander with a super-MOXIE unit. It might even leave the MOXIE unit at one place and go around collecting samples. Meanwhile, the second part of the mission, a sort of "truck", a slow robot with an ion drive, heads for Mars orbit. Once enough fuel has been generated by the MOXIE unit, part of the lander could fuel up and takes off into a stable Mars orbit with the rocks. The "truck" could rendezvous with the lander's ascent stage, get the rocks, and then head back to Earth orbit where a manned mission could bring the cargo down. Ion drives are low-power, but can run for years, and rocks wouldn't mind a slow trip. It might even be possible to have the ascent stage of the lander carry extra MOXIE-derived fuel fuel for use by the truck on its return trip.

  14. Loony Moony

    I always thought that the reddish tinge to Mars was down to frozen H2O2 - hydrogen peroxide - meaning that finding sperrylite - platinum ore - would enable catalysis of the dust to provide water and oxygen

  15. JaffaMan

    Why bother collecting samples for later?

    I really don't see the point in collecting rock samples, particularly if they are going to be collected by man later, for return to earth.

    Surely any manned mission would include rock coring/sampling gear for subsequent return to earth with the crew (assuming it's not a one way mission!). I see no real reason for Curiosity 2.0 to core the samples years in advance with a difficult, slow, costly automated drill when man will turn up with a slightly less difficult, slow and costly manually operated drill.

    I'd like to see the space on the new rover occupied by some other wizz bang kit not storing rock samples.

    It's a bit different if they're going to take samples for collection by another robot, but a bit pointless in my opinion if they will be collected by man.

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