NASA’s Perseverance Rover efficiently lands on the floor

NASA successfully landed its fifth robotic rover, Perseverance, on the surface of Mars on Thursday after its six-month journey from Earth.

“Touchdown confirmed,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission control said at 3:55 p.m. ET. “Perseverance safe on the surface of Mars, ready to seek the sands of past life.”

The rover is the most technologically advanced robot NASA has ever sent to Mars. The agency plans to spend almost two years exploring the surface. NASA spent around $ 2.4 billion to build and launch the Perseverance mission. Another US $ 300 million is expected to land and operate the rover on the surface of Mars.

Based on its predecessor Curiosity, which reached Mars in August 2012 and is still in operation, the Perseverance rover was built by NASA JPL in California. Several companies have contributed to parts of the spacecraft, including the Lockheed Martin-built heat shield, the Aerojet Rocketdyne-built rocket engines, and the robotic arm built by Maxar Technologies.

Perseverance also has a small helicopter called Ingenuity with which NASA plans to attempt the first flight on another planet.

Engineers observe the first test drive for NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on December 17, 2019.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The rover, about the size of a small car, weighs about 1 ton and is 10 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 7 feet high. It has a robotic arm that reaches about 7 feet, the end of which has a robotic hand that has a camera, chemical analyzer, and rock drilling machine. Perseverance is powered by nuclear power. A plutonium generator is provided by the US Department of Energy to generate power for its pair of lithium-ion batteries.

Perseverance traveled 293 million miles over a period of more than six months to reach Mars after being launched on July 30 by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Hold the landing

This illustration shows the events in the final minutes of the nearly seven-month journey NASA’s Perseverance rover makes to Mars

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The landing of the rover showed the typical “seven minutes of terror” that NASA engineers describe every time a spacecraft attempts to land on Mars. This is the time it takes to enter the Martian atmosphere and descend to the surface. It is known as such because it takes 11 minutes for communication to occur from the rover back to Earth. This means that the spaceship and the rover must perform the time delay and land autonomously.

Persistence entered the Martian atmosphere in a capsule that protected the rover as it moved at a speed of approximately 12,100 miles per hour. The spacecraft then parachuted to slow down before the capsule and heat shield were dropped, and then fired its rocket engines to slow down from about 170 mph to about 2 mph.

An animation of the spacecraft with the Mars rover Perseverance firing its engines to slow the landing.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Next, the spaceship deployed its “sky crane”, which lowered the rover the remaining few meters to the surface.

An animation of the Mars rover Perserverance, which is being lowered onto the surface of Mars by the “sky crane”.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater, a 45 km wide basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars. It’s a place NASA believes a body of water the size of Lake Tahoe used to flow. NASA’s science team is hoping that the ancient river delta may have received organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life that Perseverance will attempt to detect with its instruments.

The target landing area of ​​NASA’s Perseverance rover is superimposed on this image of the landing site on Mars, the Jezero crater.

ESA / DLR / FU-Berlin / NASA / JPL-Caltech

In addition to its scientific instruments, the rover carries a plaque to honor Covid-19 health workers and to recognize the effects of the pandemic.

The rover also has the names of 10.9 million people written in morse code on three silicon chips on the rover with the words “Explore as one”.

Perseverance mission

The rover is packed with cameras to capture its expedition and full of scientific instruments to measure the geology of the planet and collect samples that NASA plans to return to Earth one day.

NASA plans to push persistence to the surface for a Martian year, equivalent to 687 days on Earth.

It has seven main instruments for a variety of purposes: the Mastcam-Z; the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer or MEDA; the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Experiment on Resource Use, or MOXIE; the planetary instrument for X-ray lithochemistry or PIXL; the Radar Imager for Mars Subsurface Experiment or RIMFAX; scanning of habitable environments with Raman & Luminescence for organic matter & chemicals or SHERLOC and the SuperCam.

The rover also has a sample caching system with nine different drills and many sample collection tubes to capture parts of the Martian surface.

“Perseverance is the first rover to bring a sample caching system to Mars that packs promising samples for return to Earth on a future mission,” NASA said in a press release. “Instead of pulverizing rock like the Curiosity drill does, the Perseverance drill cuts intact rock cores about the size of a piece of chalk and places them in sample tubes that are stored until the rover reaches a convenient drop off point on Mars.”

NASA hopes to return the samples in the future as part of a campaign in collaboration with the European Space Agency.

The rover is designed to cover more ground than any other robot previously sent to Mars. NASA designed Perseverance to travel an average of 650 feet per Mars day. This roughly equates to the longest trip the NASA Opportunity Rover completed at 702 feet in a day.

The goal is the first flight on another planet

The Perseverance rover with the Ingenuity helicopter visible underneath was preparing for takeoff.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Perseverance also carries the Ingenuity helicopter. NASA plans to use the helicopter in a flat area a few months after landing under Perseverance. The rover then drives about 100 meters away to record the attempted flight with the rover’s cameras.

An animation of the Perseverance rover using the Ingenuity helicopter.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

If all goes well, Ingenuity’s flight will be the first powered controlled flight on another planet in what NASA calls the “Wright Brothers Moment” on Mars.

An animation of the Ingenuity helicopter making its first flight on Mars.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

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