What to expect from the dramatic Mars landing on Thursday

What to expect from the dramatic Mars landing on Thursday
Zoom in / Illustration of the Tenacity craft on Mars.

Thursday is a great day. NASA’s Martian spacecraft costing billions of dollars will reach the red planet and begin almost immediately the process of trying to land safely on the surface.

This is easier said than done. When approaching Mars, the Perseverance craft will get rid of the flight stage, and it will only maintain an air cover to protect itself and the landing stage. This slender spacecraft will hit the atmosphere as it travels at 20,000 km / h and has only 410 seconds – or nearly seven minutes – to throw that speed and make a feathery landing.

How to land on Mars

Although the Mars atmosphere is thin, it will nonetheless provide most of the resistance to slow perseverance. Within about 80 seconds of entering the Martian atmosphere, temperatures outside the atmosphere are expected to reach 1,300 degrees Celsius.

About four minutes after encountering the atmosphere, the car’s parachutes will deploy. Soon after, the protective aerosil will fall off, and its mission is accomplished. Then, when the craft lands about 4 kilometers above the planet’s surface, it will activate it Terrain navigation system. Up until this point, the Tenacity flight will be very similar to the Curiosity Rover, which underwent “seven minutes of terror” during its successful landing in August 2012.

The entry, descent, and descent sequences of Mars Perseverance.
Zoom in / The entry, descent, and descent sequences of Mars Perseverance.

NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory- California Institute of Technology

With perseverance, there is one major difference – while Curiosity sought a safe landing site in the relatively smooth terrain of the Gale crater, this spacecraft would land in a more dangerous location with rocks, the Jezero Crater. This site should be for richer scientific exploration. To mitigate this risk, engineers added a new system that allows for a more accurate landing.

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As it descends, the on-board computer will quickly begin capturing images of the Martian surface, looking for features such as craters, cliffs, and large rocks to compare them to earlier orbital images. After the on-board computer performs 15 prominent “matches”, it will switch to HD shooting mode for landing position adjustment. Curiosity can estimate its location on Mars within approximately 3 kilometers. Perseverance will reduce this error to 40 meters.

At an altitude of 2 km, the rover will begin a powered descent, followed by a “skycrane” maneuver to set perseverance on Mars at speeds of less than 1m / s.

When will we know perseverance made it? The cameras on the spacecraft will record its landing, but there will be no ability to transmit this data in real time, and it will be sent a few days later. Since there is an 11-minute time delay between Earth and Mars at the moment, we won’t know the fate of the spacecraft until after it has landed (or left a smoke crater in the surface of Mars). The landing date is set at approximately 3:55 PM EST (20:55 UTC). With luck, a signal from the spacecraft will reach Earth, telling us everything is fine.

NASA TV will provide live coverage In all the usual places Starting at 2:15 PM EST (19:15 UTC) Thursday. So many people at NASA and in the industry have worked extraordinarily hard to make Thursday a successful day, so let’s hope they will be rewarded.

Very complicated task

Perseverance has a lot in common with curiosity in other ways. They are built of the same design and share many common parts. But NASA learned from Curiosity about the spacecraft’s performance on Mars – such as the need for more durable aluminum wheels – and because of this, NASA was able to push perseverance even further.

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For example, scientists believe that the Jezero crater area was a delta and that ancient sediments have been preserved. Perseverance carries a laser-based spectrometer system to search for biometric past fingerprints.

The craft also contains a complex system that collects and stores dozens of samples from Mars rocks in the hope that a future NASA mission to Mars will retrieve those samples and return them to Earth. NASA and the European Space Agency are working on a joint mission that will return these rocks in 2031, but it has not been fully funded.

Finally, of course, it will bring in a small task of perseverance cleverness Helicopter to the red planet. He will endeavor to demonstrate his first powered flight into another world. It might not work – Mars’ atmosphere is very thin, so producing any elevator would be a challenge – but it’s great to see NASA take on such risks that will only push our space adventures to higher altitudes.

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