NASA’s Perseverance Rover is Cruising to Mars

An illustration of Perseverance along the rim of Jezero Crater on Mars. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The folks at NASA always impress with the amount and quality of the media they provide for space enthusiasts to sift through. Recently I stumbled upon a ton of images and videos about the Mars 2020 robotic mission currently zooming toward a February 2021 touchdown.

An Atlas V-541 two-stage rocket launches the Mars 2020 spacecraft toward the red planet on 30 July 2020. Photo courtesy of United Launch Alliance.

NASA is targeting Jezero Crater for the landing. One of its spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, includes instruments that indicate water filled the crater off and on over the last 3.5 billion years, forming a huge lake. NASA intends to send Perseverance along the ancient shoreline to search for microbial fossils .

In this image, Jezero Crater is visible in blue and the landing area is circled in black. Rim to rim, the crater measures 28 miles (45 kms), about as wide as Great Salt Lake in Utah. (Regarding size, that’s nothing: Jezero sits inside a larger crater 750 miles across–about the size of Texas.) A satellite video of the area can be found here. Photo from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL/ESA.
An illustration of how ancient Lake Jezero might have appeared. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The illustration below shows the Mars 2020 spacecraft “exploded” to show its several parts. The top contains a solar array to power the craft during its interplanetary trip, a set of thrusters with fuel for small course corrections, and radio antennas to maintain contact with flight control. Next comes the backshell, which fits together with the heat shield at the bottom to encase the descent stage and rover. The backshell also contains a parachute to slow the craft during initial entry into the Martian atmosphere.

An expanded view of the Mars 2020 spacecraft. Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

During the final descent to the surface, the backshell and heatshield fly away. The descent stage, firing thrusters, slows to a near hover and lowers the rover by cables to the surface.

The descent stage lowers the Curiosity rover to the surface in August 2012. Mars 2020 will utilize the same technique. Success is never certain, however; over the years, 40% of Mars missions have failed. Photo from NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Once the rover touches down, the descent stage flies off to its own landing. Perseverance unpacks itself and sets about analyzing the crater. Check the image below for the seven instruments the car-sized vehicle carries. Among its objectives are mapping the surface and subsurface, and understanding their mineral, chemical, and organic content; and recording atmospheric measurements of wind speed, barometric pressure, and humidity.

Perseverance and its armament. The rover will employ PIXL, an x-ray spectrometer at the end of its arm, to scan the rocks of Jezero Crater for evidence of microbes. Illustration from NASA.

Hitching a ride on Perseverance is Ingenuity, a small helicopter. Its mission is to become the first machine to fly under its own power on another planet.

NASA technicians examine Ingenuity. Photo from NASA/Cory Huston.

Video of Ingenuity in action, courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Perseverance is scheduled to land on February 18, 2021. Check out NASA’s Mars 2020 portal for tons of multimedia and real-time updates about the mission.

Works Cited

“Basics of Space Flight: Trajectories.” Solar System Exploration. NASA.

“Instruments (on Perseverance).” NASA.

“Jezero Crater, Mars 2020’s Landing Site.” NASA.

“Mars 2020 Mission Perseverance Rover.” NASA.

“Mars 2020/Perseverance (objectives, timeline, instruments).” NASA.

McLaughlin William I. “Walter Hohmann’s Roads In Space.” JPL/NASA.

“Mars 2020 Mission Overview and Quick Facts.” NASA.

“Perseverance Rover’s Landing Site: Jezero Crater.” NASA.

“Perseverance Rover at Halfway Point.” NASA.

“PIXL.” NASA.

“The Perseverance Rover Landing.” NASA.

“This Helicopter is Going to Mars.” NASA.

Categories: places, things

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