The rover, the largest and most advanced rover NASA has ever built, will act as a robotic geologist, collecting samples of dirt and stones that will return to Earth by 2030.
Because of this, Perseverance is also the cleanest machine ever sent to Mars. It was designed so that it would not contaminate the Mars samples with microbes from Earth and give an incorrect reading.
The mission teams have made many changes due to the pandemic, but have adapted to work safely and effectively. The team that will be at JPL during the landing ran a customized simulation of the landing that took place over three days last week.
“Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – landing on Mars is difficult,” said John McNamee, project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover mission at JPL, in a statement. “But the women and men on this team are the best in the world at what they do. When our spaceship hits the top of the Martian atmosphere at about three and a half miles per second, we’ll be ready.”
Perseverance is the final step in NASA’s long history of exploring the red planet. It builds on lessons learned from previous missions with new objectives that shed more light on the history of Mars.
“NASA has explored Mars since Mariner 4 made a flyby in July 1965, two more flybys since then, seven successful orbiters and eight landers,” Thomas Zurbuchen, assistant administrator of NASA’s directorate of scientific missions, said in a statement.
“Perseverance, built from the collective knowledge of such pioneers, has an opportunity not only to expand our knowledge of the Red Planet, but also to examine one of the most important and exciting questions humanity has about the origin of life on earth, and also on other planets. “
NASA teams call it the “seven minutes of terror”.
And just a few weeks after landing, the spacecraft’s video cameras and microphones show the rover’s perspective of this harrowing experience.
“Seven Minutes of Terror”
The one-way light time it takes radio signals to travel from Earth to Mars is approximately 10.5 minutes. This means that the seven minutes it takes for the spaceship to land on Mars will be on Earth without any help or intervention from NASA teams.
These are the “seven minutes of terror”. The ground teams tell the spaceship when to begin the EDL (entry, descent, and landing), and the spaceship takes over from there.
It is no exaggeration to say that this is the most critical and dangerous part of the mission, according to Allen Chen, Mars 2020 boarding, descent and landing at JPL.
“There is no guarantee that we will be successful,” admitted Zurbuchen. However, the mission teams did everything they could to prepare for a successful landing.
This rover is the heaviest NASA has ever attempted to land. He weighs over a ton.
The spacecraft hits the top of Martian atmosphere at a speed of 12,000 miles per hour and has to slow to zero miles per hour seven minutes later when the rover gently lands on the surface.
It will sweep the Martian sky like a meteor, said Chen.
About 10 minutes before entering the thin Martian atmosphere, the cruise stage that carried the spaceship on its journey through space is spilled and the rover prepares for a guided boarding, where small thrusters on the aeroshell help shape its angle adapt.
The spacecraft’s heat shield can withstand a peak warming of 2370 degrees Fahrenheit 75 seconds after entering the atmosphere.
Persistence targets an ancient lake bed and river delta 45 kilometers wide, the toughest spot for a NASA spacecraft to land on Mars yet. The flat landing site is not flat and smooth, but littered with sand dunes, sheer cliffs, boulders and small craters.
The starship has two upgrades – Range Trigger and Terrain-Relative Navigation – to help navigate this difficult and dangerous place.
The range trigger tells the 70.5-foot-wide parachute when to deploy based on the spacecraft’s position 240 seconds after entering the atmosphere. After the parachute is deployed, the heat shield is released.
The rover’s terrain-based navigation acts like a second brain, using cameras to photograph the ground as it approaches quickly and determines the safest landing spot. According to NASA, it can shift the landing pad up to 2,000 feet.
The aft hull and parachute will separate after the heat shield is thrown away when the spacecraft is 1.3 miles above the Martian surface. The Mars landing motors, which include eight retro sockets, are fired to slow the descent from 190 mph to about 1.7 mph.
Then the famous sky crane maneuver with which the Curiosity rover landed will take place. Nylon cords lower the rover 25 feet below the descent step. After the rover touches the surface of Mars, the cords loosen and the descent step flies away and lands at a safe distance.
On the surface of Mars
Once the rover has landed, Perseverance will begin its two year mission and will go through a “checkout” phase to make sure it is ready.
The rover also finds a nice, flat surface to drop the Ingenuity helicopter on, so it can be used as a helipad for its potential five test flights within 30 days. This will happen within the first 50 to 90 Sols or Mars days of the mission.
Once Ingenuity has settled on the surface, Perseverance drives to a safe place some distance away and uses its cameras to observe Ingenuity’s flight.
This will be the first helicopter flight on another planet.
After these flights, Perseverance will search for evidence of ancient life, study the climate and geology of Mars, and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth via planned future missions. It drives three times faster than previous rovers.
The Jezero crater was chosen as the home of Perseverance because billions of years ago there was a lake and river delta in the basin. Rocks and debris from this basin could provide fossilized evidence of past microbial life, as well as more information about what ancient Mars was like.
“Perseverance’s sophisticated scientific instruments will not only aid in the search for fossilized microbial life, but will also expand our knowledge of Martian geology and its past, present and future,” Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020, said in a statement.
“Our science team has carefully planned how we can best work with the expected data. That is the problem we are looking forward to.”
The distance Perseverance will travel is roughly 15 miles, an “epic journey” that will take years, Farley said. What scientists have found out about Mars is worth the trip.
Perseverance also offers instruments that could contribute to further exploration of Mars in the future, such as MOXIE, the in-situ resource use experiment for Mars oxygen. This experiment, about the size of a car battery, will attempt to convert Mars carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Not only could this help NASA scientists learn how to make rocket fuel on Mars, but it could also help oxygen, which could be used in future human exploration of the red planet.
“The mission offers hope and unity,” said Zurbuchen. “As our cosmic neighbor, Mars continues to captivate our imaginations.”