Curiosity to begin a three-month trek to the asteroid belt, but will need to be ready for a long haul to return
NASA has said that its unmanned rover Curiosity will be able to “resume exploration” of the asteroid Belt and Asteroid Belt by the end of 2019, but that the mission will need a “long haul”.
In a statement, the agency said that the first step in the journey will be to “return to the surface of Mars and conduct the first ever robotic landings”.
The announcement comes as the US government considers how to pay for its Mars 2020 rover mission.
It has been reported that NASA will spend $1.6 billion (£1.2 billion) on the project, with the final cost likely to be $3.8 billion.
While it has been confirmed that the spacecraft will be a “major scientific and technical milestone” , the announcement does not mention a date or a time frame for when it will return to the ground.
“The rover will perform a series of science experiments, land a robotic lander, collect samples and analyze the Martian soil,” NASA said in a statement.
“Curiosity will be deployed to the Martian surface by 2019 and begin a journey to the Belt and asteroids, which will be its final resting place.
The spacecraft will then undergo its final scientific analysis and return to Earth.”
NASA has previously said that it is likely to use the $3 billion that the agency is funding to develop a “full-scale, autonomous vehicle for Mars”.
But the agency did not say when or where the rover will land, or how it will be capable of returning to the planet.
Curiosity is currently at a remote location in Gale Crater, which is on the rim of an asteroid that is more than 870 million years old.
It was built to search for ancient Martian life and is capable of exploring the terrain for any signs of organic matter.
The mission will be the first of its kind to be carried out by a spacecraft, with a total mission cost of $1 billion.
In a letter to the Senate Committee on Science, Space and Technology, NASA said that all aspects of the mission must be designed and built to withstand the rigours of a manned mission to the Red Planet.
“The mission’s design and construction, including the hardware, software, and systems needed to perform these complex activities, must be as robust as possible,” the agency wrote.
The mission is the first in a series, with NASA also planning to fly its own mission to Jupiter in 2020.
NASA said that, “Curveball is an exciting mission that will bring new scientific discoveries to the human race”.
“It is critical that we make sure that our robotic missions to the moons of Jupiter and beyond are fully capable of providing science to mankind, not just the moons,” the statement said.
NASA’s mission to Mars has been controversial in the past, with critics arguing that the government should have spent more money to build a rover that would have been capable of landing on the surface, and had more capabilities.
In the past several years, a number of groups have expressed concern over the cost of the $1-billion mission, which has been repeatedly delayed and rescheduled.
The US space agency has faced criticism for not using the money it has provided for the project.
Earlier this month, the US Congress rejected a proposal to use $2.6-billion to fund NASA’s Mars 2020 Mars rover mission, as it was reported that the US had a budget deficit of $18 billion, compared with $18.7 billion in the previous fiscal year.
A recent NASA budget report found that the budget shortfall is due in part to the budget cuts that took place in March, when the agency announced it would cancel the development of its Mars 2030 rover.
More to come