Astronomy:Mars rover

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Short description: Robotic vehicle for Mars surface exploration
NASA's Curiosity rover, selfie, 2015

A Mars rover is a motor vehicle designed to travel on the surface of Mars. Rovers have several advantages over stationary landers: they examine more territory, they can be directed to interesting features, they can place themselves in sunny positions to weather winter months, and they can advance the knowledge of how to perform very remote robotic vehicle control. They serve a different purpose than orbital spacecraft like Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. A more recent development is the Mars helicopter.

(As of May 2021), there have been six successful robotically operated Mars rovers; the first five, managed by the American NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, were (by date of Mars landing): Sojourner (1997), Opportunity (2004–2018), Spirit (2004–2010), Curiosity (2012–), and Perseverance (2021–). The sixth, managed by the China National Space Administration, is Zhurong (2021–).

On January 24, 2016, NASA reported that then current studies on Mars by Opportunity and Curiosity would be searching for evidence of ancient life, including a biosphere based on autotrophic, chemotrophic or chemolithoautotrophic microorganisms, as well as ancient water, including fluvio-lacustrine environments (plains related to ancient rivers or lakes) that may have been habitable.[1][2][3][4][5] The search for evidence of habitability, taphonomy (related to fossils), and organic carbon on Mars is now a primary NASA objective.[1][6]

The Soviet probes, Mars 2 and Mars 3, were physically tethered probes; Sojourner was dependent on the Mars Pathfinder base station for communication with Earth; Opportunity, Spirit and Curiosity were on their own. As of November 2022, Curiosity is still active, while Spirit, Opportunity, and Sojourner completed their missions before losing contact. On February 18, 2021, Perseverance, the newest American Mars rover, successfully landed. On May 14, 2021, China's Zhurong became the first non-American rover to successfully operate on Mars.


Multiple rovers have been dispatched to Mars:

Rover and lander captured by HiRISE from NASA's MRO on June 6, 2021
Zhurong rover and lander captured by HiRISE from NASA's MRO on 6 June 2021


  • Zhurong launched with the Tianwen-1 CNSA Mars mission on July 23, 2020, landed on May 14, 2021 in the southern region of Utopia Planitia, and deployed on May 22, 2021, while dropping a remote selfie camera on 1 June, 2021.[17][18]

Not active

Sojourner disembarks Mars Pathfinder base station lander on the surface of planet Mars
  • Mars 3, PrOP-M rover, landed successfully on December 2, 1971. 4.5 kilograms (9.9 lb) rover tethered to the Mars 3 lander. Lost when the Mars 3 lander stopped communicating about 14.5 seconds after landing.[19] The loss of communication may have been due to the extremely powerful Martian dust storm taking place at the time or an issue with the Mars 3 orbiter's ability to relay communications.
  • Sojourner rover, Mars Pathfinder, landed successfully on July 4, 1997. Communications were lost on September 27, 1997. Sojourner had traveled a distance of just over 100 meters (330 ft).[20]
  • Spirit (MER-A), Mars Exploration Rover (MER), launched on June 10, 2003,[21] and landed on January 4, 2004. Nearly 6 years after the original mission limit, Spirit had covered a total distance of 7.73 km (4.80 mi) but its wheels became trapped in sand.[22] The last communication received from the rover was on March 22, 2010, and NASA ceased attempts to re-establish communication on May 25, 2011.[23]
  • Opportunity (MER-B), Mars Exploration Rover, launched on July 7, 2003[21] and landed on January 25, 2004. Opportunity surpassed the previous records for longevity at 5,352 sols (5498 Earth days from landing to mission end; 15 Earth years or 8 Martian years) and covered 45.16 km (28.06 mi). The rover sent its last status on 10 June 2018 when a global 2018 Mars dust storm blocked the sunlight needed to recharge its batteries.[24] After hundreds of attempts to reactivate the rover, NASA declared the mission complete on February 13, 2019.


  • Mars 2, PrOP-M rover, 1971, Mars 2 landing failed taking Prop-M with it. The Mars 2 and 3 spacecraft from the Soviet Union had identical 4.5 kg Prop-M rovers. They were to move on skis while connected to the landers with cables.[19]


  • The European-Russian ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin was confirmed technically ready for launch in March 2022 and planned to launch in September 2022, but due to the suspension of cooperation with Roscosmos this is delayed and a fast-track study was started to determine alternative launch options.[25]



  • Marsokhod was proposed to be a part of Russian Mars 96 mission.
  • Astrobiology Field Laboratory, proposed in the 2000-2010 period as a follow on to MSL.[26]
  • Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher (MAX-C), cancelled 2011[27][28]
  • Mars Surveyor 2001 rover[29]
  • Mars Tumbleweed Rover, a spherical wind-propelled rover.[30][31]
  • In 2018, a kind of cushion-air rover was proposed,[32] which in contrast with traditional hovercraft does not use blowers to pressurize the gas in the chamber but rather uses stored pressurized CO2 obtained from a freezing process which does not require mechanical compression.[33]

Timeline of rover surface operations

<timeline> ImageSize = width:900 height:250 PlotArea = width:825 height:230 left:75 bottom:20 Alignbars = justify DateFormat = mm/dd/yyyy Period = from:01/01/1996 till:11/13/2022 TimeAxis = orientation:horizontal format:yyyy ScaleMajor = unit:year increment:5 start:1996 gridcolor:black Colors =

 id:canvas value:gray(0.85)

BackgroundColors = canvas:canvas

PlotData =

color:blue width:7 textcolor:black align:left anchor:from
bar:Sojourner  from:07/04/1997 till:09/27/1997:end
color:blue width:7 textcolor:black align:left anchor:from
bar:Spirit    from:01/04/2004 till:03/22/2010:end
color:blue width:7 textcolor:black align:left anchor:from
bar:Opportunity     from:01/25/2004 till:06/10/2018:end
color:blue width:7 textcolor:black align:left anchor:from
bar:Curiosity     from:08/06/2012 till:end
color:blue width:7 textcolor:black align:left anchor:from
bar:Perseverence     from:02/18/2021 till:end
color:red width:7 textcolor:black align:left anchor:from
bar:Zhurong    from:05/14/2021 till:end


Examples of instruments

Curiosity's (MSL) rover "hand" featuring a suite of instruments on a rotating "wrist". Mount Sharp is in the background (September 8, 2012).
Opportunity's first self-portrait including the camera mast on Mars
(February 14−20, 2018 / sols 4998−5004). It was taken with its microscopic imager instrument.

Examples of instruments onboard landed rovers include:

Mars landing locations

Mars Landing Sites (December 16, 2020)

NASA Mars rover goals

Circa the 2010s, NASA had established certain goals for the rover program.

NASA distinguishes between "mission" objectives and "science" objectives. Mission objectives are related to progress in space technology and development processes. Science objectives are met by the instruments during their mission in space.

The science instruments are chosen and designed based on the science objectives and goals. The primary goal of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers was to investigate "the history of water on Mars".[34]

The four science goals of NASA's long-term Mars Exploration Program are:

Panorama of Husband Hill taken by the Spirit rover (November 2005)


Opportunity rover later visited its heat shield impact site; it was ejected during the rover's descent and impacted the surface separately.
Comparison of the distances travelled by various Mars rovers

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Grotzinger, John P. (January 24, 2014). "Introduction to Special Issue - Habitability, Taphonomy, and the Search for Organic Carbon on Mars". Science 343 (6169): 386–387. doi:10.1126/science.1249944. PMID 24458635. Bibcode2014Sci...343..386G. 
  2. Various (January 24, 2014). "Special Issue - Table of Contents - Exploring Martian Habitability". Science 343 (6169): 345–452. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  3. Various (January 24, 2014). "Special Collection - Curiosity - Exploring Martian Habitability". Science. Retrieved January 24, 2014. 
  4. Grotzinger, J.P. (January 24, 2014). "A Habitable Fluvio-Lacustrine Environment at Yellowknife Bay, Gale Crater, Mars". Science 343 (6169): 1242777. doi:10.1126/science.1242777. PMID 24324272. Bibcode2014Sci...343A.386G. 
  5. "Planetary Scientists Have Created a Map of Mars' Entire Ancient River Systems" (in en-US). 2020-12-30. 
  6. Changela, Hitesh G.; Chatzitheodoridis, Elias; Antunes, Andre; Beaty, David; Bouw, Kristian; Bridges, John C.; Capova, Klara Anna; Cockell, Charles S. et al. (December 2021). "Mars: new insights and unresolved questions" (in en). International Journal of Astrobiology 20 (6): 394–426. doi:10.1017/S1473550421000276. ISSN 1473-5504. Bibcode2021IJAsB..20..394C. 
  7. "Mars Science Laboratory Launch". 26 November 2011. 
  8. "NASA Launches Super-Size Rover to Mars: 'Go, Go!'". New York Times. 26 November 2011. 
  9. USGS (16 May 2012). "Three New Names Approved for Features on Mars". USGS. 
  10. NASA Staff (27 March 2012). "'Mount Sharp' on Mars Compared to Three Big Mountains on Earth". NASA. 
  11. Agle, D. C. (28 March 2012). "'Mount Sharp' On Mars Links Geology's Past and Future". NASA. 
  12. Staff (29 March 2012). "NASA's New Mars Rover Will Explore Towering 'Mount Sharp'". 
  13. Webster, Guy; Brown, Dwayne (22 July 2011). "NASA's Next Mars Rover To Land At Gale Crater". NASA JPL. 
  14. Chow, Dennis (22 July 2011). "NASA's Next Mars Rover to Land at Huge Gale Crater". 
  15. Amos, Jonathan (22 July 2011). "Mars rover aims for deep crater". BBC News. 
  16. "Nasa's Perseverance rover lands on Mars". BBC News. 18 February 2021. Retrieved 2021-02-18. 
  17. Gebhardt, Chris (February 10, 2021). "China, with Tianwen-1, begins tenure at Mars with successful orbital arrival". 
  18. "First Chinese Mars probe successfully landed with a rover". 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Mars 2 Lander". NASA NSSDC. 
  20. "Sojourner". 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Mars Exploration". 10 August 2012. 
  22. Boyle, Alan. "Good moves on Mars". MSNBC. 
  23. "NASA Concludes Attempts To Contact Mars Rover Spirit". NASA. May 24, 2011. 
  24. "Mars Exploration Rover Mission: All Opportunity Updates". 
  25. "Rover ready – next steps for ExoMars" (in en). 
  26. "NASA - Missions to Mars". October 15, 2006. 
  27. de Selding, Peter B. (20 April 2011). "ESA Halts Work on ExoMars Orbiter and Rover". Space News. 
  28. Svitak, Amy (18 April 2011). "U.S., Europe Plan Single-rover Mars Mission for 2018". Space News. 
  29. "NASA - NSSDCA - Spacecraft - Details". 
  30. Kimberly W. Land (May 13, 2003). "A new way to explore the surface of Mars". NASA. 
  31. The Tumbleweed Rover is on a Roll. Anna Heiney, KSC NASA. 11 March 2004.
  32. Arias, Francisco. J (2018). "CO2-Cushion Vehicle for Mars. An Alternative Locomotion for Exploration Rovers". 2018 Joint Propulsion Conference. doi:10.2514/6.2018-4492. ISBN 978-1-62410-570-8. 
  33. Arias, Francisco. J (2018). "A Method of Attaining High Pressurized Vessels in Space, the Moon and With Particular Reference to Mars". 2018 International Energy Conversion Engineering Conference. doi:10.2514/6.2018-4488. ISBN 978-1-62410-571-5. 
  34. "Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Overview". 
  35. "Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Science – Looking for signs of past water on Mars". 

External links