The touchdown of NASA’s subsequent Mars rover is now simply days away.
The car-size Perseverance rover, the centerpiece of NASA’s $2.7 billion Mars 2020 mission, will hunt for indicators of historic life, accumulate and cache samples for future return to Earth and assist display quite a lot of new exploration applied sciences, amongst different duties.
However earlier than it might probably get began on any of that groundbreaking work, Perseverance should ace its landing inside Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. There isn’t any assure that the rover will survive this harrowing ordeal; through the years, simply 40% of all Mars floor missions have landed efficiently.
That miserable determine is skewed by a number of failures within the first few many years of the Area Age, nevertheless. NASA’s current Crimson Planet observe document is sort of encouraging (knock on wooden), and Mars 2020 will make use of a confirmed touchdown technique — the “sky crane” method used efficiently by its predecessor, the Curiosity rover, which touched down in August 2012 and stays lively right this moment.
This is a quick rundown of the Mars 2020 mission and its upcoming entry, descent and touchdown (EDL) operations to get you prepared for the massive day.
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What’s the Mars rover Perseverance mission?
Curiosity has been assessing the habitability of historic Mars and investigating the planet’s long-ago transition from comparatively heat and moist to extraordinarily chilly and dry. The Mars 2020 mission, which launched on July 30, 2020, will take the following step, actively trying to find indicators of historic Crimson Planet life. No floor mission has ever completed this, although NASA’s twin Viking landers did search for extant Mars life after they touched down in 1976.
Perseverance will even assist convey the Mars life hunt right down to Earth. The rover will accumulate and retailer a number of dozen samples, which a joint NASA-European Area Company marketing campaign will haul to our planet as early as 2031. As soon as the pristine Mars materials is on the bottom, scientists in labs all over the world can scrutinize it utilizing much more highly effective and exact gear than a single rover can carry to the Crimson Planet.
Mars 2020 additionally has an enormous technology-demonstration element. For instance, a tiny helicopter named Ingenuity is flying to the Crimson Planet on Perseverance’s stomach. Within the early days of the Mars 2020 mission, which is scheduled to final not less than one Mars yr (about 687 Earth days), Ingenuity will make just a few check flights, making an attempt to develop into the primary rotorcraft ever to fly on a world past Earth. Success might open Mars to in depth aerial exploration sooner or later, NASA officers have mentioned.
The two,260-lb. (1,025 kilograms) Perseverance can be carrying an instrument referred to as MOXIE, which is brief for “Mars Oxygen In-Situ Useful resource Utilization Experiment.” (And ISRU stands for “in situ useful resource utilization.”) MOXIE will generate oxygen from the skinny, carbon dioxide-dominated Martian ambiance, showcasing tech that, if scaled up, might assist humanity get a foothold on the Crimson Planet, NASA officers have mentioned.
You may study far more about Perseverance and its science objectives on our Mars 2020 reference page.
The place is Perseverance touchdown?
NASA introduced in November 2018 that Perseverance will discover Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) gap within the floor about 18 levels north of the Martian equator.
Greater than 3.5 billion years in the past, Jezero hosted a lake concerning the measurement of Lake Tahoe, in addition to an related river delta. And NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has noticed clay minerals, which kind within the presence of liquid water, on the crater’s ground.
“On Earth, scientists have discovered such clays within the Mississippi River delta, the place microbial life has been discovered embedded within the rock itself,” company officers wrote in a description of Jezero. “This makes Jezero Crater an ideal place to satisfy the Mars 2020 mission’s science aim of finding out a probably liveable setting which will nonetheless protect indicators of previous life.”
And in case you had been questioning (or hoping): a meetup between Perseverance and Curiosity is not going to occur. Jezero is about 2,300 miles (3,700 km) from Gale Crater, which Curiosity has been exploring since 2012.
How and when will Perseverance land?
Talking of Curiosity: The older mission supplied a template for Mars 2020 in quite a lot of methods. Perseverance’s physique is similar to that of Curiosity, for instance, and the 2 missions share the identical dramatic “seven minutes of terror” EDL technique.
As Mars 2020 nears the Crimson Planet on the afternoon of Feb. 18, the spacecraft will shed its “cruise stage,” the half that housed the photo voltaic panels, gas tanks and radios wanted for its lengthy interplanetary journey. Ten minutes after that milestone, Mars 2020 will hit the Crimson Planet’s ambiance at a pace of virtually 12,500 mph (20,000 kph), and the fear countdown clock will begin ticking.
Although Mars’ ambiance is simply 1% as thick as Earth’s, it is substantial sufficient to sluggish Mars 2020 down dramatically by way of drag. However that service comes with a price: frictional heating, which is able to generate temperatures as excessive as 2,370 levels Fahrenheit (1,300 levels Celsius) on the floor of the spacecraft’s warmth protect. Perseverance itself will not expertise such extremes, after all; will probably be about room temperature inside Mars 2020’s protecting aeroshell, which consists of the warmth protect and a bit referred to as the again shell.
Mars 2020 will deploy its 70.5-foot-wide (21.5 m) supersonic parachute about 4 minutes after atmospheric entry, when the spacecraft has slowed to a way more manageable 940 mph (1,512 kph). To get the timing of deployment good, Mars 2020 will use a brand new know-how referred to as Vary Set off, which Curiosity didn’t have.
Twenty seconds after the supersonic chute makes its look, Mars 2020 will jettison its warmth protect, exposing Perseverance to the fast-rushing Crimson Planet air. The rover will then begin documenting its descent in nice element, snapping images of the Martian floor and utilizing radar to determine its altitude.
These images shall be employed by one other new know-how Mars 2020 will showcase — Terrain-Relative Navigation, which includes the comparability of descent imagery with an onboard map.
“Mission group members have mapped upfront the most secure areas of the touchdown zone,” NASA officers wrote in a detailed summary of the Mars 2020 EDL sequence. “If Perseverance can inform that it’s headed for extra hazardous terrain, it picks the most secure spot it might probably attain and will get prepared for the following dramatic step.”
The parachute will sluggish Mars 2020 right down to about 200 mph (320 kph) — nonetheless far too quick for a protected touchdown. So, about six minutes into the seven minutes of terror, at an altitude of 6,900 toes (2,100 m), the again shell and hooked up parachute will fall away, and the mission’s “sky crane” descent stage will kick into gear.
The sky crane’s eight thrusters will fireplace downward, ultimately slowing Mars 2020 to only 1.7 mph (2.7 km/h). Then, at an altitude of 65 toes (20 m), the crane will decrease Perseverance towards the bottom on lengthy cables. After the rover touches down safely, it should lower the cables, and the descent stage will fly off to crash-land deliberately a protected distance away.
That landing will happen at 3:55 p.m. EST (1855 GMT) on Feb. 18, if all goes in accordance with plan.
Sure, this sounds a bit of loopy, particularly contemplating that Mars 2020 should do every thing by itself, with none assist from mission management. (On Feb. 18, it should take greater than 11 minutes for a sign to journey from Earth to Mars — longer than your entire EDL sequence.) But it surely labored for Curiosity again in 2012.
And we’ll be capable of comply with all of the EDL motion in (practically) actual time: NASA will present protection of the massive occasion, beginning at 2:15 p.m. EST (1715 GMT) on Feb. 18. You may watch it live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA, or directly via the space agency.
And within the heady days after a profitable touchdown (knock on wooden, once more), we might get an unprecedented deal with — high-quality video and audio of Mars 2020’s landing sequence, because of HD EDL cameras and an associated microphone.
Visit Space.com on Feb. 18 for full protection of the Mars rover Perseverance touchdown.
Mike Wall is the writer of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a e-book concerning the seek for alien life. Comply with him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Comply with us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Fb.