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7 things you need to know about the NASA rover that will land on Mars

7 things you need to know about the NASA rover that will land on Mars

In a clean room at NASA’s Southern California Jet Propulsion Laboratory, engineers observe the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance on December 17, 2019. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

With only about 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) left to travel with 293 million miles (471 million kilometers), NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is approaching its new planetary home. The spacecraft has begun to approach the Red Planet, and in 43 days, on February 18, 2021, the consistency will blaze through the atmosphere of Mars at about 19,100 km / h, lightly touching the surface about seven minutes later.

“We are working on our latest adjustments to put Permanence in a perfect position to land on one of the most interesting places on Mars,” said Fernando Abileira, deputy head of mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The team can’t wait to put those wheels in some Martian dirt.”

Built and operated by JPL for NASA, Perseverance will join another rover and landing party currently operating on Mars, with several orbits in the sky above. What distinguishes this six-wheeled robot?

1. Persistence is the search for signs of ancient life.

While the surface of Mars is now a frozen desert, scientists have learned from previous NASA missions that the Red Planet once hosted running water and a warmer surface environment that could sustain microbial life.

“We want perseverance to help us answer the next logical question: Are there really signs of past microbial life on Mars?” Said Katie Steck Morgan, JPL’s deputy project scientist. “This demanding goal means sending the most advanced robot scientist ever to Mars.”

To address this issue, which is key in the field of astrobiology, Persistence offers a new set of cutting-edge scientific tools. Two of them will play a particularly important role in looking for potential signs of a past life: SHERLOC (short for Scanning Habitats with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), which can detect organic matter and minerals, and PIXL (short for Planetary). X-ray lithochemistry tool), which maps the chemical composition of rocks and sediments. The tools will allow scientists to analyze these characteristics together at a higher level of detail than any rover has previously achieved.

Permanence will also use some tools to collect scientific data remotely: Mastcam-Z cameras can magnify rock textures as far as a football field, while SuperCam will use a laser to close rocks and regolith (broken stone and dust) for study of their composition in the resulting steam. RIMFAX (short for Radar Imager for the Mars Underground Experiment) will use radar waves to drill geological objects underground.

2. The rover lands on a site with a high potential to detect these signs of past microbial life.

The terrain, which is interesting for scientists, can be challenging to land. Thanks to new technologies that allow Permanence to better target its landing site and autonomously avoid landing hazards, the spacecraft can safely touch a place as intriguing as Jezero Crater, a 28-mile (45 km) wide pool. ). which has steep cliffs, sand dunes and rock fields.

More than 3.5 billion years ago, a river there flowed into a body of water the size of Lake Tahoe, depositing sediment in the form of a fan known as the delta. The persistence team believes that this ancient delta of the delta and lakes may have collected and stored organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life.

3. Persistence also collects important data about the geology and climate of Mars.

Context is everything. Mars orbits have collected images and data from the Jezero crater from about 322 kilometers above, but finding signs of ancient life on the surface requires much closer scrutiny. Requires a rover as perseverance.

Understanding the past climatic conditions of Mars and reading the geological history embedded in its rocks will give scientists a richer sense of what the planet was like in its distant past. Studying the geology and climate of the Red Planet can also give us an idea of ​​why Earth and Mars – despite some early similarities – turned out to be so different.

4. Perseverance is the first stage of the two-way journey to Mars.

The verification of the ancient life of Mars carries a huge probative value. Permanence is the first rover to bring a sample caching system to Mars to pack promising samples to return to Earth from a future mission.

Instead of pulverizing the rock the way NASA’s Curiosity rover drills, Perseverance’s drill will cut intact rock cores the size of a piece of chalk and place them in samples that it will store until the rover reaches a suitable drop. outside the location of Mars. The rover could also potentially deliver samples to a launcher that is part of a planned campaign to return samples from Mars by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).

Once the samples are here on Earth, we can study them with instruments too large and complex to send to Mars, providing much more information about them than even the most complex rover could.

5. Perseverance brings tools and technologies that will help pave the way for human missions to the moon and Mars.

Among the promising technologies for this mission that will be useful for human research is field-related navigation. As part of the spacecraft’s landing system, Terrain-Relative Navigation will allow the descending spacecraft to quickly and autonomously understand its location above the Martian surface and change its trajectory.

Permanence will also have greater surface autonomy than any other rover, including self-driving intelligence that will allow it to cover more land in daily operations with fewer instructions from Earth engineers. This ability to pass quickly will make the study of the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies more efficient for other vehicles.

In addition, Perseverance is conducting a technology experiment called MOXIE (short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), which will produce oxygen from the atmosphere of Mars’ carbon dioxide. It will demonstrate how future researchers can produce oxygen for both rocket fuel and respiration.

Two other tools will help engineers design systems for future human explorers to land and survive on Mars: The MEDLI2 package (Mars Entry, Descent and Landing Instrumentation 2) is a next-generation version of what flew in the mission. Mars Science Laboratory, which supplies the Mars rover Curiosity, while the MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) toolkit provides information on weather, climate and surface ultraviolet radiation and dust.

Permanence also takes a trip to the Ingensity Mars helicopter. A technological experiment separate from the rover’s scientific mission, Ingenuity will make its first flight with a controlled aircraft to another world. If the helicopter is successful in its 30-day (31-Earth Day) demonstration window, the data could help future explorations of the Red Planet – including those by astronauts – by adding a new aerial dimension.

6. The Persistence Mars embodies the spirit of NASA and the scientific spirit of overcoming challenges.

Reaching the spacecraft to the launch site during a pandemic, looking for signs of ancient life, collecting samples and proving new technologies are not easy feats. Nor is it a light touchdown on Mars: Only about 50% of Martian attempts by any space agency have been successful.

The mission team draws inspiration on behalf of its rover, with a particular awareness of the challenges the world is facing at the moment. With this in mind, the mission installed a special plaque to honor the dedication and hard work of the medical community and the first responders around the world. The team hopes to inspire the world and future researchers to pave new paths and discovers that the next generation can build on.

7. You will get on together.

The Sustainability of Mars 2020 mission carries more cameras than any interplanetary mission in history, with 19 cameras on the rover itself and four on other parts of the spacecraft involved in entry, landing and disembarkation. As with previous Mars missions, the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission plans to make raw and processed images available on the mission’s website.

If all goes well, the public will be able to experience in high resolution what it’s like to land on Mars – and hear the sounds of landing for the first time with a ready-made microphone attached to the side of the rover. Another SuperCam microphone will help scientists understand the properties of the rocks the instrument examines, and can also listen to the wind.

If you’re among the 10.9 million people who signed up to send your name to Mars, your name is inscribed on one of three silicone chips embedded in a rover’s board that carries the words “Explore as One” in the Morse code. .

The durability of the rover is 100 days

Provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Quote: 7 things you need to know about the NASA rover that will land on Mars (2021, January 7), retrieved on January 7, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-01-nasa -rover-mars.html

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