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NASA Mars 2020 Launch: Highlights From Rover’s Perseverance Journey

NASA’s Perseverance rover is headed to Mars, the third spacecraft to be driven this way this month.

Perseverance, a robotic wheeled vehicle designed to look for signs of past life on Mars, was lifted from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday at 7.50 am Eastern time. The launch was pushed back a few weeks by a series of technical delays and overcame the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, which required many of its engineers to work from home.

The rover’s destination is a crater, Jezero, which was once a lake in the northern hemisphere of Mars. Scientists believe it is a promising place where signs of Martian ancient life could be preserved if life ever existed on Mars.

The Atlas 5 rocket stopped the spacecraft away from Earth and on a trajectory to reach Mars in six and a half months. It follows previous July launches from the United Arab Emirates and China. While Perseverance is the last to leave, all three missions are due to arrive on the red planet around the same time, in February.

For people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which will be responsible for operating the mission during its trip to Mars, a 4.2-magnitude earthquake provided a little extra shock to the Earth. countdown. This did not affect the launch, but employees working on the mission expressed their surprise on Twitter.

A few hours after launch, NASA had some trouble communicating with the spacecraft, but officials were not concerned. “It’s something we’ve seen before with other missions on Mars,” Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, said at a post-launch news conference.

The large Deep Space Network radio dishes that communicated with the distant spacecraft in the solar system were receiving Perseverance radio signals in a clear, clear voice – in fact, too loud.

As Mr Bridenstine spoke, Matt Wallace, the project’s deputy manager, received a message that engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had made adjustments that allowed the plates to locate on the telemetry data. .

Perseverance is an almost identical car-sized wheeled robot in the design of NASA’s former Mars Rover, Curiosity, which landed in 2012. However, Perseverance is headed to a different location – a crater named Jezero that was once a lake – which brought a different set of instruments. The curiosity was designed to look for habitable environments, and in it were found signs of a freshwater lake. Perseverance must go a step further and look for evidence of a past life that may have lived in Lake Jezero.

Perseverance is also carrying a few devices that are more fun than scientific: several cameras, which record various views as the spacecraft rises into the atmosphere during takeoff; and two microphones, which will be the first to record sounds on another planet.

He also carries an experimental helicopter.

Yup, it’s called Ingenuity. The four-pound Marscopter is a technological experiment, and if it works, it will be the first flight to work on another planet. The rotors must rotate at 2,400 revolutions per minute to generate a lift in the thin atmosphere of Mars, only one percent dense on Earth on the surface.

A couple of experiments on Perseverance have nothing to do with searching for a past life, but they can help future life on Mars – astronauts from Earth.

One of the crucial supplies that astronauts will need is oxygen, for breathing and as a rocket propellant.

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, will take carbon dioxide molecules from the Martian atmosphere and break them down into oxygen atoms and carbon monoxide.

MOXIE will try to show that it is possible on the surface of the red planet. But the amount of oxygen it can produce – less than an ounce per hour – is tiny.

“We’re just making enough oxygen to keep a small dog alive,” Michael Hecht, the principal investigator for MOXIE, said.

But if the idea works, the technique could be used in the future on a much larger scale to fill a rocket. “So astronauts on a future Mars mission could leave Mars to come home,” he said.

Perseverance is also carrying samples of materials used in spaces, mounted on a target used to calibrate one of the rover’s instruments.

“When I send someone to Mars in my space, I want to make sure they stay alive all the time,” said Amy Ross, one of NASA’s space apparel designers at a news conference on Three.

With Perseverance taking repeated measurements over a few years on Mars, “we can understand how our materials hold or don’t hold in that environment,” she said.

Perseverance will land on Mars on February 18 next year at 3:40 pm Eastern time.

Every 26 months, Earth and Mars approach each other, allowing for the fastest and most efficient journey from Earth to Mars. If the launch doesn’t take place by mid-August, NASA will have to wait until the next opportunity, in 2022.

The Jezero crater was filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago when Mars was warmer and wetter. From an orbit, a former NASA spacecraft found a dried-up river on one side of Jezero and an exit channel could be seen on the other. Fan-shaped delta sediments can be seen where the river flows into the crater. No one knows if he ever lived anything on Mars, but if he did, Jezero would be a major place to look, scientists decided.

Landing on Mars is difficult. The thin atmosphere of the planet is not thick enough to provide enough crawling to slow down the pace of a spacecraft like Perseverance, which will reach more than 12,000 miles per hour. But the atmosphere is still thick enough to generate thousands of degrees of heat, which complicates the task of reducing Perseverance before it falls to the ground. A few landing attempts by NASA and other space agencies ended with the creation of new craters on the surface of the red planet.

But NASA has removed five consecutive landing hits. In order to increase the likelihood of the Perseverance rover being the sixth, NASA has made adjustments to the parachute that suppresses the spacecraft when it arrives in the Martian atmosphere. It also improves the rover’s ability to identify a smooth unloading site.

The Emirates Mars Mission successfully launched on a Japanese rocket on July 20.

The United Arab Emirates space program is modest, and its offer to join the ranks of countries that have reached Mars is part of an ambitious effort to inspire young people in the Emirates to pursue a career in science and education. technology.

Its Hope spacecraft will orbit Mars for a number of years, helping scientists study the planet’s weather cycles.

China launched a second mission, Tianwen-1, on July 23rd.

The country’s space program has seen a number of successes in recent years, including two rovers landing on Earth’s moon as well as a pair of space stations deployed in orbit. But her previous attempt to reach Marsin in 2011 was lost when the Russian rocket she was riding on failed and burned in Earth’s atmosphere.

The new Chinese mission includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover. While other countries have taken a gradual approach to visiting Mars – first an orbiter, then a lander, then finally a rover – China stresses that it will try to operate all these components for the first time at once.

The orbiter, according to four scientists involved in the mission, will study Mars and its atmosphere for about one Martian year, or 687 days on Earth. In addition to two cameras, the spacecraft carries an underground radar, a detector to study the Martian magnetic field and three other scientific instruments.

The rover will attempt to land in the Utopia Planitia region at mid-northern Martian latitudes. NASA’s Viking 2 mission was launched there in 1976. Previous studies using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have shown that Utopia Planitia has a layer of water ice equivalent to that found in Lake Superior on Earth.

If it handles the dangerous Martian landing, the rover uses a combination of cameras, ground-penetrating radar and other instruments to better understand the distribution of ground ice, which future human settlers on Mars could use. to support themselves. China’s mission is to last about 90 Martian days.

The fourth mission, joint Russian-European rover Rosalind Franklin, was to launch this summer as well. But the technical hurdles, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, cannot be overcome in time. It is now scheduled to launch in 2022.

It’s getting a little crowded around the red planet.

Six orbiters are currently studying the planet from space. Three were sent there by NASA: Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001; Mars Orbiter Reconnaissance, in 2005; and MAVEN, who left Earth in 2013.

Europe has two spacecraft in orbit. Its Mars Express orbiter was launched in 2003, and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which is shared with Russia’s space program, was launched in 2016.

India operates its sixth spacecraft, the Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Mangalyaan, which launched in 2013.

Two U.S. missions are currently operating on the ground. Curiosity has been going on since 2012. It is joined by InSight, a stationary lander that has been studying Marsquakes and other internal properties of the red planet since 2018. A third U.S. mission, the Opportunity Rover, expired in 2019 when a dust storm caused it to lose power.

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