Nasa's Mars Perseverance rover safely lands on the Red Planet
19 February 2021
Nasa’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission, the agency’s fifth rover to land on the Red Planet, touched down in Jezero Crater at around 3:55 pm EST (12:55 pm PST) on Thursday (18 February 2021), engineers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the mission is managed, have confirmed.
The largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world touched down on Mars, after a 203-day journey traversing 472 million kilometres (293 million miles).
Packed with groundbreaking technology, the Mars 2020 mission launched on 30 July 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, the Perseverance rover mission marks an ambitious first step in the effort to collect Mars samples and return them to Earth.
“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for Nasa, the United States, and space exploration globally – when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting Nasa Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”
About the size of a car, the 2,263-pound (1,026-kilogram) robotic geologist and astrobiologist will undergo several weeks of testing before it begins its two-year science investigation of Mars’ Jezero Crater. While the rover will investigate the rock and sediment of Jezero’s ancient lakebed and river delta to determine the region’s geology and past climate, the sample that is being planned to be brought back to earth by NASA and European Space Agency, will allow scientists to search for definitive signs of past life using instruments too large and complex to send to the Red Planet.
“Because of today’s exciting events, the first pristine samples from carefully documented locations on another planet are another step closer to being returned to Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA. “Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars. We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental – including that life might have once existed beyond Earth.”
The spacecraft carries a new suite of scientific instruments to build on the discoveries of Nasa’s Curiosity rover, which has found that parts of Mars could have supported microbial life billions of years ago.
Some 45 kilometers (28 miles) wide, Jezero Crater sits on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Scientists have determined that 3.5 billion years ago the crater had its own river delta and was filled with water.
The power system that provides electricity and heat for Perseverance through its exploration of Jezero Crater is a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG, developed bt the US Department of Energy (DOE) for civil space applications.
The Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) and the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) instruments, located on a turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, will work together to collect data on Mars’ geology close-up.
The rover chassis is home to three science instruments, as well. The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) is the first ground-penetrating radar on the surface of Mars and will be used to determine how different layers of the Martian surface formed over time. The data could help pave the way for future sensors that hunt for subsurface water ice deposits.
“Landing on Mars is always an incredibly difficult task and we are proud to continue building on our past success,” said JPL Director Michael Watkins. “But, while Perseverance advances that success, this rover is also blazing its own path and daring new challenges in the surface mission. We built the rover not just to land but to find and collect the best scientific samples for return to Earth, and its incredibly complex sampling system and autonomy not only enable that mission, they set the stage for future robotic and crewed missions.”
The Mars Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrumentation 2 (MEDLI2) sensor suite collected data about Mars’ atmosphere during entry, and the Terrain-Relative Navigation system autonomously guided the spacecraft during final descent. The data from both are expected to help future human missions land on other worlds more safely and with larger payloads.
Project engineers and scientists will now put Perseverance through its paces, testing every instrument, subsystem, and subroutine over the next month or two. Only then will they deploy the helicopter to the surface for the flight test phase. If successful, Ingenuity could add an aerial dimension to exploration of the Red Planet in which such helicopters serve as a scouts or make deliveries for future astronauts away from their base.
Once Ingenuity’s test flights are complete, the rover’s search for evidence of ancient microbial life will begin in earnest, says a Nasa release.