NASA plans to follow-up its Mars rover Curiosity mission with a duplicate rover that could collect and store samples for return to Earth, the agency's lead scientist have said.
The new rover will use spare parts and engineering models developed for Curiosity, which is four months into a planned $2.5 billion, two-year mission on Mars to look for habitats that could have supported microbial life.
Replicating the rover's chassis, sky-crane landing system and other gear will enable NASA to cut the cost of the new mission to about $1.5 billion.
Budget shortfalls forced NASA to pull out of a series of joint missions with Europe, designed to return rock and soil samples from Mars in the 2020s.
Europe instead will partner with Russia for the launch vehicle and other equipment that was to have been provided by NASA.
Scientists at Astrium in Stevenage have also been testing their own Mars rover for the next Mars mission.
Called 'Bruno', the €1bn European ExoMars programme is due to launch in 2018.