Missions to Mars Through 2020

  Source: NASA and ESA

Mars Science Laboratory

This mission is scheduled to launch in late 2009 with a goal of adding to the knowledge regarding the current and past habitability of Mars, including a  search for organic compounds. After reaching Mars in 2010 and landing by a new Sky Crane method, it is projected to be operational for nearly two years. This mission is an important milestone in the exploration of Mars because it will:

  • Land a large and heavy rover on Mars – a skill necessary to a future Mars Sample Return mission.
  • Have the highest precision landing to-date.
  • Travel a larger distance than any previous mission – up to 20 kilometers.


Scheduled to launch in October 2009, this lander will study one of Mars’ two moons, Phobos, and return samples to Earth which should arrive in 2012. It will have the capability of executing a preprogrammed mission to collect and return samples even if communications with mission control is lost. Ten different types of microorganisms will be aboard for the round-trip from Earth to Mars in order to study the effects of long term space travel on them.

The Chinese probe Yinghuo-1 will accompany the lander for most of the trip to Mars. It will separate in August or September 2010 and enter a highly elliptical orbit around Mars. It will study Mars’ external environment, including its magnetic field and ionosphere.


The European Space Agency (ESA) is currently working on its own rover, ExoMars, that is scheduled to launch in 2013 and land on Mars in 2014. This rover will have a drill that can dig deep into the Martian surface to look for water and organics.

Mars Sample Return

Support continues to gather for international cooperation, including NASA and ESA, on an unmanned mission to return samples from Mars around the 2020-2022 time frame.