15th October 2020

NASA has commissioned QUT to develop software to analyse scientific data that will be captured by the Perseverance Rover during its mission to search for ancient life on Mars.

  • QUT is developing software to analyse scientific data captured by the Perseverance Rover in its search for ancient life on Mars
  • QUT students and staff will be studying ancient Australian rocks to help guide the Mars Perseverance rover mission
  • This is the first Mars mission to have the key task of searching for actual signs of past microbial life

The project, which involves QUT developing software to crunch complex geochemical data captured by the rover’s scientific instruments, extends QUT’s participation in the mission, which also includes the involvement of staff and students.

A former NASA scientist now based at QUT’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Dr David Flannery is a member of the Perseverance Rover’s science team, a Long Term Planner for the mission, and a Co-Investigator of the rock chemistry instrument PIXL which is led by QUT alumnus Dr Abigail Allwood at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Dr Flannery is working with his colleagues at NASA JPL, and QUT staff and students, studying early life in ancient Australian rocks to help guide the NASA Perseverance Rover in its mission to find evidence of past life on Mars.

“Building on QUT’s expertise in computer-human interaction, field robotics, planetary science and astrobiology, the software will improve the efficiency of rover operations,” Dr Flannery said.

The software agreement is part of a larger project in which QUT researchers will develop software for the Perseverance Rover for work extending through the prime mission in 2023.

Dr Flannery said the Perseverance Rover mission to Mars was a unique opportunity for QUT staff and students to take part in a research project seeking to answer the profound question of whether or not life existed somewhere else in our solar system.



“The Perseverance Rover is the most complex object ever sent to Mars. The mission has several extremely ambitious goals - including searching for past life in Jezero crater, caching samples that will be returned to Earth, and paving the way for human missions,” Dr Flannery said.

“This is a rare opportunity for Australians to participate in deep space exploration, with front row seats on a flagship NASA mission.

“Experience gained by QUT researchers exposed to the cutting edge of the robotics, automation, data science and astrobiology fields has the potential to kick start Australia’s space industry.”

The Mars 2020 Rover is due to land on Mars in Jezero Crater, which was once flooded with water. Dr Flannery and his team of researchers are hoping to find biosignatures of past life in the ancient rock record.

“This is an opportunity to address one of the biggest questions in science, and potentially to make one of the biggest scientific discoveries of all time,” Dr Flannery said.

Applications are now open for Masters and PhD projects to work with Dr Flannery (david.flannery@qut.edu.au).

Research reported in this press release is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under subcontract number 1654048.


Media contact:

Rod Chester, QUT Media, 07 3138 9449, rod.chester@qut.edu.au

After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901, media@qut.edu.au

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