The Mars Relay Network connects us to NASA’s Martian explorers

(17 February 2021 – JPL) A tightly choreographed dance between NASA’s Deep Area Community and Mars orbiters will hold the company’s Perseverance in contact with Earth throughout touchdown and past.

When NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover touches down with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on the Pink Planet on Feb. 18, they gained’t be alone. From orbit, two robotic buddies will likely be enjoying a particular position within the occasion by checking in on the mission’s important indicators from the second Perseverance enters the environment to lengthy after it makes its first tracks on the Martian floor.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the Mars Atmospheric and Risky EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter are part of the Mars Relay Community, a constellation of spacecraft that serves as a lifeline to the present floor missions on Mars – NASA’s Curiosity rover and InSight lander.

Whereas some instructions and telemetry might be despatched on to and from Earth, for probably the most half, the large portions of science knowledge collected by rovers and landers can not, as a result of it could take too lengthy. Most knowledge touring again to Earth should first be despatched to the Mars orbiters overhead, which then transmit the information tens of hundreds of thousands of miles by means of interplanetary area to radio antennas on Earth, together with the antennas of NASA’s venerable Deep Area Community (DSN).

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5 spacecraft at the moment in orbit concerning the Pink Planet make up the Mars Relay Community to transmit instructions from Earth to floor missions and obtain science knowledge again from them. Clockwise from high left: NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Atmospheric and Risky EvolutioN (MAVEN), Mars Odyssey, and the European Area Company’s (ESA’s) Mars Categorical and Hint Fuel Orbiter (TGO). (courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech, ESA)

“It’s a big endeavor to take care of communications with our spacecraft all through the photo voltaic system, however Mars floor missions take this dedication to a different stage,” stated Bradford Arnold, DSN venture supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Since Mars World Surveyor (MGS) arrived in orbit in 1997, a gradual stream of orbiters has been added, carrying relay radios and antennas, which give extremely environment friendly communications between floor landers and Earth. Whereas the choreography of this relay scheme is now considerably commonplace for belongings in place, it’s nonetheless extraordinarily difficult to coordinate all of the communication hyperlinks for the very transient time throughout a lander’s arrival.”

This dance will be certain that the world can watch Perseverance’s entry, descent, and touchdown – a harrowing sequence of occasions that can start because the rover’s interplanetary cruise ends.

Over the Horizon

As Perseverance enters the Martian environment inside its protecting aeroshell, the rover will change between a number of of its onboard antennas to remain in touch with Earth. A few of these antennas use highly effective X-band transmissions that may ship small quantities of knowledge on to the DSN. Others use extremely excessive frequencies (or UHF) to speak with MRO and MAVEN.

Managed by JPL for NASA’s Area Communications and Navigation program (SCaN), the DSN consists of a number of parabolic radio antennas at floor stations in Southern California, close to Madrid, Spain, and outdoors Canberra, Australia. This configuration permits mission controllers to speak with spacecraft all through the photo voltaic system always all through Earth’s every day rotation. Throughout Perseverance’s touchdown, Madrid’s antennas will likely be educated on Mars, taking the lead when receiving knowledge. The Goldstone advanced close to Barstow, California, may also be listening in as a backup.

Because the touchdown of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Alternative in 2004, science knowledge has been routinely relayed by way of the Mars orbiters to the DSN, starting with MGS after which NASA’s veteran Odyssey orbiter, which has been circling Mars since 2001.

As a result of the ultimate two minutes of Perseverance’s descent and touchdown will likely be principally past Mars’ horizon from Earth’s perspective, “direct-to-Earth” X-band communications will likely be unimaginable, and the rover will talk with Earth solely by way of MRO and MAVEN when it lands.

In orbit since 2006, MRO was designed as a science mission and to behave as a communications relay for landed floor missions. Nevertheless it obtained an improve to organize for Perseverance’s touchdown.

“Previously 12 months, the software program of the MRO spacecraft and its UHF radio have been up to date to permit the near-immediate return of knowledge collected throughout EDL. MRO will seize the telemetry transmitted by Perseverance and use its 3-meter [10-foot] dish to transmit it instantly to Earth,” stated Roy Gladden, supervisor of the Mars Relay Community at JPL. “We name this a ‘bent pipe’, which permits us to get phrase from Perseverance although Mars is obstructing our view from Earth.”

First Phrase From Jezero

As MRO relays Perseverance’s touchdown in near-real-time, engineers in mission management hope to verify touchdown – and obtain the primary picture – quickly after 12:55 p.m. PST (3:55 p.m. EST). Due to the gap the sign has to journey from Mars to Earth, the spacecraft may have landed (often known as “spacecraft occasion time”) 11 minutes and 22 seconds earlier.

Later, at about 4:27 p.m. PST (7:27 p.m. EST), Odyssey will fly over the touchdown web site and talk with the rover to verify its well being. The subsequent relay session after that will likely be at about 6:36 p.m. PST (9:36 p.m. EST) by ESA’s (the European Area Company’s) Hint Fuel Orbiter (TGO), which may also examine in on Perseverance’s well being and relay any photos the rover has transmitted from the touchdown web site.

As well as, MAVEN will seize the complete touchdown with a data-rich broad spectrum recording, and can ship the data again to Earth a number of hours after touchdown. This knowledge could possibly be used to fill in any telemetry (engineering knowledge) from the rover throughout EDL that was missed by MRO in the course of the preliminary relay, and supply different measurements of the occasion.

This buddy system helps be certain that little knowledge is misplaced throughout Perseverance’s historic touchdown in Jezero Crater whereas additionally confirming the well being of the rover and its exact location.

Science Operations

In fact, communications don’t cease after touchdown. That’s when the difficult process of sending instructions to Perseverance and receiving the rover’s big science knowledge output will start.

Throughout its mission, the rover may have the entire orbiters within the Mars Relay Community for assist – together with NASA’s MRO, MAVEN, Odyssey, and ESA’s TGO, which has been enjoying a key position within the community for the previous few years. Even ESA’s Mars Categorical orbiter will likely be accessible for emergency communications ought to the necessity come up. Whereas the NASA orbiters talk solely with the DSN, the ESA orbiters additionally talk by way of the European Area Monitoring community and floor stations situated in Russia.

Though the Mars Relay Community has expanded to incorporate extra spacecraft and extra worldwide companions, with each new floor mission comes added complexity when scheduling the relay periods for every orbiter flyover.

“Curiosity and InSight are close to sufficient to one another on Mars that they’re virtually all the time seen by the orbiters on the similar time once they fly over. Perseverance will land far sufficient away that it may well’t concurrently be seen by MRO, TGO, and Odyssey, however generally MAVEN, which has a bigger orbit, will be capable to see all three autos on the similar time,” added Gladden. “Since we use the identical set of frequencies when speaking with all three of them, now we have to fastidiously schedule when every orbiter talks to every lander. We’ve gotten good at this over the past 18 years as rovers and landers have come and gone, together with collaborating with ESA, and we’re excited to see the Mars Relay Community set new throughput data because it returns Perseverance’s big knowledge units.”

Finally, this communications endeavor connecting Earth and Mars will allow us to see high-resolution photos (and listen to the primary sounds) captured by Perseverance, and scientists will be capable to additional our data concerning the Pink Planet’s historic geology and engaging astrobiological potential.

Extra About Perseverance

A key goal of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, together with the seek for indicators of historic microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and previous local weather, pave the way in which for human exploration of the Pink Planet, and be the primary mission to gather and cache Martian rock and regolith.

Subsequent missions, at the moment into consideration by NASA in cooperation with ESA, would ship spacecraft to Mars to gather these sealed samples from the floor and return them to Earth for in-depth evaluation.

The Mars 2020 mission is an element of a bigger NASA initiative that features missions to the Moon as a method to put together for human exploration of the Pink Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will set up a sustained human presence on and across the Moon by 2028 by means of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, constructed and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

Extra About DSN

The Deep Area Community is managed by JPL for NASA’s Area Communications and Navigation (SCaN), which is situated at NASA’s headquarters inside the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Extra Concerning the Mars Relay Community

The Mars Relay Community is a part of the Mars Exploration Program, which is managed at JPL on behalf of NASA’s Planetary Science Division inside its Science Mission Directorate.


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