On February 18, 2021, Mars Perseverance Rover landed on Mars! Here's the first image Mars 2020 rover returned. See the shadow of the rover in the martian sun.
This image is from the sky crane that gently placed the Mars Perseverance Rover on the surface Mars! It is very exciting that NASA choose to put color cameras on the sky crane and the rover so that the journey to the surface could be recorded in detail. This will help engineers to send future missions to the surface. Maybe someday a sky crane will place human explorers on Mars!
It will take a few weeks while NASA checks out Persy to be sure its mission can be succssfully carried out. Here is NASA's infographic of Persy's landing sequence.
Mars Perseverance Rover
Perseverance rover is sometimes referred to as "Persy". It is about the size of a car, ~10-feet long, 9-feet wide, and 7-feet tall (~3m x 2.7m, x 2.2m), and weighs a bit over 1,000 kg. Some parts of the Mars 2020 mission was based on the successful Mars Science Laboratory mission that delivered the Curiosity rover to Mars where it has been exploring since August 2012. Perseverance is the 5th Rover that NASA has built to explore Mars.
Perseverance launched on July 30, 2020 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-541 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Its target landing site is Jezero Crater.
Perseverance is protected in the spacecraft during the transport from Earth to Mars. The spacecraft is composed of the cruise stage that supports the whole vehicle during the 7-month cruise to Mars; the descent stage has 8 engines to slow the final descent, then carries the rover to the surface, lowers it on cables and places it on the surface gently; the backshell with thrusters that fire to guide the rover through entry, descent, and landing; and the heat shield that protects the rover from the atmosphere during the descent to Mars.
Perseverance rover science objectives:
Perseverance is seeking signs of possible past microbial life in Mars' ancient habitable environments. It will find and study the type of rocks that can preserve signs of that life. Perseverance will be collecting rock and soil samples and storing them on the Martian surface. Perseverance is also testing the Martian atmosphere for the ability to produce oxygen that will enable human survival on the red planet.
Perseverance will be studying Jezero Crater that is considered a good place to search for signs of life. Billions of years ago, the crater basin was a lake that was being supplied by a river. The river was forming a delta and the result of that process can still be seen today. The rock and soil that Perseverance’s samples at Jezero could help answer questions about the existence of life beyond Earth. In future missions it is planned to bring the samples back to Earth for in-depth study by scientists on Earth using equipment that is too large and complex for a rover to carry to Mars.
The image of Jezero Crater's delta was taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows the delta made of sediments that were carried by an ancient river. Instruments on MRO have shown that water has altered some of the sediments in the crater so perhaps there is still water below the surface.
Jezero crater is located on Isidus Planitia that is located near the well-known martian feature of Syrtis Major. Jezero crater is 45km in size, so it will not be easily seen on the small image that shows the crater in a small section of the USGS map of Mars.
Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will collect samples that will be retrieved from Mars by future Mars missions that are being developed. Percy will drills core samples from ~30 locations that have promising rock and soil (called regolith) targets. Those samples will be cached on the surface awaiting pick-up.
Because so much of Percy's task on Mars is devoted to the study of rock and regolith, it is easy to think of the rover as a geologist, but that is not the only purpose it will fulfill on Mars. The rover will also try to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide gas that makes up the Martian atmosphere.
The rover carries a small helicopter on its belly called "Ingenuity". The Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration — it is a test, attempting the first powered flight on the red planet.
Mastcam-Z is a camera system that is mounted on the rover’s mast. The cameras can zoom in, focus, and take 3D pictures and video at high speed. It allows the rover to make detailed examinations of distant objects.
Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) is a set of sensors that measure temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, humidity, radiation, and the size and shape of dust particles.
Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) is an experiment that will produce a small amount of oxygen (O2) from the carbon dioxide (CO) in Mars' atmosphere. MOXIE is studying a process that may help future explorers to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. ISRU stands for "In-Situ Resource Utilization" that means using local resources that will eliminate the need to bring important items from Earth. If oxygen can be produced on Mars, astronauts can carry less from Earth saving fuel and lowering risk.
Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer with a high-resolution camera that can determine the composition of materials on the Martian surface that has finer detail than previous instruments sent to Mars.
Radar Imager for Mars' subsurface experiment (RIMFAX) is a ground-penetrating radar that reveals buried layers of sediment, rock, ice, water, or saltwater. RIMFAX can penetrate from the surface to 30 feet (more than 10 meters).
Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) is mounted on the rover's robotic arm. SHERLOC uses spectrometers, a laser, and a camera to search for organics and minerals that have been altered by water and may be signs of past microbial life.
SuperCam uses a camera, laser and spectrometers to seek organic compounds that could be related to past life on Mars. It can identify the chemical and mineral makeup of targets as small as a pencil point from a distance of 20 feet (7 meters).
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
Ingenuity helicopter is small, only 19 inches high and weighs 4 pounds (1.8 kg). It is topped with a solar panel and can recharge without help from the rover. It has its own wireless communication system that enables commands from Earth to be relayed to it through the lander.
Because it is so small, it will demonstrate miniaturized flying technology. All the systems on the helicopter are smaller versions of the necessary equipment. NASA has shrunk down onboard computers, electronics and other parts so that the helicopter is light enough to take off. Don't underestimate the value of this small technology demonstration, miniaturizing components and figuring out the physics of flight on Mars are not easy tasks.
Once Perseverance is on the surface of Mars and NASA mission controllers decide to release Ingenuity from the belly of the rover, a protective shield will be detached. Next, Ingenuity will be flipped to an upright position and the landing legs will be unlocked. Then the helicopter will released from the rover. The solar panel will be charged in the martian sun. Ingenuity will spin up its rotor blades for the first time but it will not take off right away. If Ingenuity survives the cold martian nights during its preflight checkout, the team will proceed with testing. Nights on Mars are -130 degrees Fahrenheit, or -90 degrees Celsius.) Ingenuity has 31 Earth days to perform its experimental flights on Mars. If it succeeds, Ingenuity will prove that controlled flight can be achieved on Mars. This means that future Mars missions can add an aerial dimension to their explorations on the red planet.
Why did NASA send a helicopter to Mars?
It is difficult to fly on Mars as airplanes and helicopters do on Earth. Mars' thin atmosphere makes it hard to achieve enough lift. The atmosphere on Mars is 99% less dense than Earth's, so Ingenuity is light and its rotor blades are much larger and spin much faster than is necessary on Earth. Ingenuity is a flight demonstration that will help scientists and engineers to meet the challenge of flight on Mars.