The rover, the largest and most advanced NASA ever built, will act as an automated geologist, collecting samples of dirt and rocks that will eventually be returned to Earth by 2030.
For this reason, Perseverance is also the cleanest machine ever sent to Mars, and it’s designed not to contaminate Mars samples with any microbes from Earth, providing a false reading.
Mission teams have made many adjustments due to the pandemic, but they have adapted to operate safely and effectively. The team that will be in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the landing performed a modified simulation of last week’s landing over a period of three days.
“Don’t let anyone tell you any differently – landing on Mars is difficult,” John McNamee, Project Director of the Mars 2020 Mission for Perseverance at JPL, said in a statement. “But the women and men on this team are the best in the world at what they do. When our spacecraft reaches the top of the Mars atmosphere at about three and a half miles per second, we will be ready.”
Perseverance is the latest step in NASA’s long history of exploring the red planet. It builds on lessons learned from previous missions with new targets that shed more light on Mars’ history.
“NASA has been exploring Mars since the Mariner 4 flew in July of 1965, with two more planes, seven successful orbits and eight landings since then,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
“Perseverance, created from the collective knowledge gleaned from these pioneers, has the opportunity not only to expand our knowledge of the red planet, but also to investigate one of the most important and most exciting questions for humanity about the origin of life on Earth as well as on other planets.”
NASA teams call it “Seven Minutes of Terror”.
Just weeks after the landing, video cameras and microphones on the spacecraft will show the rover’s perspective of this horrific experience.
Seven minutes of horror
The one-way light time taken for radio signals to travel from Earth to Mars is about 10.5 minutes, which means that the seven minutes it takes for the spacecraft to land on Mars will happen without any assistance or interference from NASA teams on Earth.
These are the “seven minutes of terror.” The ground teams tell the spacecraft when to start EDL (entry, descent, and landing) and the spacecraft takes over from there.
It is no exaggeration to say that this is the most dangerous and dangerous part of the mission, according to Ellen Chen, entering Mars 2020 and descending and landing in the JPL.
“It is not certain that we will succeed,” Zurbuchen admitted. However, the mission teams did everything possible to prepare for a successful landing.
This rover is the heaviest NASA has ever attempted to land in, weighing more than a metric ton.
The spacecraft hits the upper part of the Martian atmosphere and is moving at 12,000 miles per hour and should slow to zero miles per hour after seven minutes when the spacecraft lands quietly on the surface.
Chen said it would spread across the Martian sky like a meteor.
About 10 minutes before entering the delicate Martian atmosphere, the stage of the cruise that carried the spacecraft on its journey through space is thrown off, and the rover prepares for a guided entry, where the tiny impulses on the atmosphere help to adjust its angle.
The spacecraft’s heat shield will withstand a heating peak of 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit, 75 seconds after entering the atmosphere.
The persistence targets the 28-mile-wide ancient lake bed and river delta, the most challenging location yet for a NASA spacecraft to land on Mars. Instead of a small landing site being flat and smooth, the small landing site is littered with sand dunes, steep cliffs, boulders, and small craters.
The spacecraft has two upgrades – called Range Trigger and Terrain-Relative Navigation – to navigate this difficult and dangerous location.
The Range Trigger will tell the 70.5ft parachute when deployed based on the spacecraft’s position 240 seconds after entering the atmosphere. After the parachute has spread, the heat shield will detach.
The rover’s terrain-based navigation system works like a second brain, using cameras to capture images of the ground quickly approaching and identifying the safest place to land. According to NASA, it can change landing sites up to 2000 feet.
The back cover and parachute separate after disposal of the heat shield when the spacecraft is 1.3 miles above the surface of Mars. The Mars landing gear, which includes eight retrograde jets, will launch to slow the descent from 190 mph to about 1.7 mph.
Next, the famous sky crane maneuver that has landed on the Curiosity rover will take place. Nylon ropes will lower the rover 25 feet under the landing stage. After the rover touches the surface of Mars, the ropes will separate and the landing stage will fly away and land at a safe distance.
Once the rover lands, it will begin the two-year task of perseverance, and will go through a “check-out” period to make sure it is ready.
The rover will also find a nice flat surface to drop the Ingenuity helicopter that has a place to use as a test helipad for five possible test flights over a 30-day period. This will happen during the first 50 to 90 Mars days or Mars days of the mission.
Once creativity has settled on the surface, perseverance will lead to safety in the distance and use its cameras to witness Ingenuity’s journey.
This will be the first helicopter flight to another planet.
After these trips, you will begin to persistently 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. You will drive three times faster than previous vehicles.
Jezero Crater was chosen as the home of perseverance because billions of years ago, the basin was the site of a lake and river delta. Rocks and dirt from this basin could provide fossil evidence of past microbial life, as well as more information about ancient Mars shape.
“Cutting-edge scientific persistence tools will not only help in the search for fossil microbial life, but will also expand our knowledge of Mars geology, its past, present and future,” said Ken Farley, Mars 2020 scientist, in a statement.
“Our science team has been busy planning how best to work with what we expect will be a set of cutting edge data. This is the kind of” problem “we’re looking at.”
Farley said the path to perseverance is about 15 miles long, and it is an “epic journey” that will take years. However, what scientists can discover about Mars is worth the trip.
Perseverance also holds tools that could aid further exploration on Mars in the future, such as MOXIE, the experiment with the use of Mars’ oxygen resources in situ. This experiment, the size of a car battery, will try to convert Martian carbon dioxide into oxygen.
This will not only help NASA scientists learn how to produce rocket fuel on Mars, but also oxygen that could be used as humans explore the red planet in the future.
“The mission provides hope and unity,” Zurbuchen said. “As our cosmic neighbor, Mars continues to captivate our imaginations.”