• January 28, 2023

NASA Rover Perseverance Set To Land On Mars After ‘7 Minutes Of Terror’ : NPR

NASA’s Perseverance rover is shown with its experimental aerial drone, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, in the concept of an artist. NASA / JPL-Caltech hide caption

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NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance rover is shown with its experimental aerial drone, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, in the concept of an artist.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

It’s been a long journey for Perseverance, NASA’s newest Mars rover, and it’s becoming very real very quickly.

Perseverance, a six-wheeled SUV vehicle with the most advanced robotic astrobiology lab ever launched and an experimental aerial drone on board, is at the heart of the Mars 2020 mission. It launched in July on a 293 million mile journey.

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Around 4 p.m. ET on Thursday afternoon, Perseverance will be on the surface of the red planet – either ready to begin its mission and explore an ancient crater lake for signs of past life, or in pieces scattered across the Martian landscape.

Seven minutes of terror

Success depends on nail biting “seven minutes of terror” Entry, descent and landing or EDL sequence that must be completed without errors and without the intervention of terrestrial engineers. With Mars so far away, it takes 11 minutes for the signals to reach NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the mission is administered. That said, when engineers get a message from the spaceship that EDL has started, Perseverance will already be there – intact, they hope.

The Martian atmosphere is a tiny fraction of the Earth’s atmosphere – too thin to offer much braking to a spaceship on a rapid descent, but thick enough to burn up if something goes wrong. Many before soft landing Attempts on the planet have failed.

“Mars is tough and we never take success for granted,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, in a recent online media briefing.

The landing sequence for Perseverance is essentially the same high wire act that a previous rover, Curiosity, landed on in 2012. However, for their recent accomplishment, scientists have chosen a more challenging place to settle down. The Jezero crater on the western edge of Isidis Planitia is rougher. In contrast to Curiosity, Perseverance uses what is known as Terrain Relative Navigation to find a good spot and engage in a touchdown.

“As it descends on the parachute, it will actually take pictures of the Martian surface and determine where to go based on what it sees,” says Swati Mohan, who is responsible for the guidance, navigation and control of the spacecraft.

Crater Lake

The now dry and dusty 28 miles wide Crater Lake shows unmistakable signs of being filled with liquid water billions of years ago. Perseverance is said to end up near an ancient river delta that once flowed into the basin.

Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. The circle indicates where the Perseverance rover should land. NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / JHU-APL / ESA hide caption

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NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / JHU-APL / ESA

Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. The circle indicates where the Perseverance rover should land.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / JHU-APL / ESA

Jezero was selected from 60 landing sites after an extensive five-year study to weigh the merits of each location, according to NASA.

“At Jezero, we have one of the most beautifully preserved delta deposits on Mars in this crater,” explains Katy Stack Morgan, assistant project scientist for the mission.

The Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said billions of years ago it would have been an ideal place for microorganisms to live. “And it’s also a wonderful place where these microorganisms are preserved so we can find them now.” “

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Ingenuity and other new devices

Although Perseverance looks very similar to its predecessor Curiosity on the surface, it carries a bevy of new scientific instruments. These include a better drill for taking surface core samples, higher resolution cameras, instruments for studying Martian mineralogy and detecting organic compounds, ground penetrating radar, a kind of Martian weather station and even microphones This will allow earhlings to hear what it sounds like on Mars for the first time.

An artist’s concept for NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which flies over the surface of the red planet. NASA / JPL-Caltech hide caption

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NASA / JPL-Caltech

An artist’s concept for NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which flies over the surface of the red planet.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

But all the buzz revolves around that Mars helicopter, known as Ingenuity. NASA calls it a “technology demonstration”. If successful, it will be the first powered flight on another world.

Despite the red planet’s hazy atmosphere, engineers hope that Ingenuity’s 4-foot rotors, spinning five times faster than the blades of a helicopter on Earth, combined with Mars’ low gravity will help lift it off the ground.

Like the first powered flight on Earth, Ingenuity’s first flight, planned for spring, will be short and close to the ground. If all goes well, a series of increasingly ambitious flights are planned over a period of 30 Mars days.

“The Ingenuity Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration.” NASA says. “If the tiny craft runs into trouble, the science gathering of the Mars 2020 mission will not be affected. If the helicopter flies as planned, future Mars missions could use second-generation helicopters to add an air dimension to their explorations.”

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