The touchdown

The technical phrases for the seven minutes of terror is “entry, descent, and landing,” or EDL. It begins when the spacecraft enters the Martian higher ambiance at round 20,000 kilometers per hour (12,500 miles per hour) and faces quickly rising temperatures. Perseverance is protected by a warmth defend and shell, in addition to a collection of 28 sensors that monitor scorching gases and winds. Temperatures peak at a punishing 13,00 °C (2,400 °F).

About 4 minutes into EDL—roughly 11 kilometers (seven miles) above the floor and nonetheless hurtling to the bottom at about 1,500 km/h (940 mph)—the rover deploys a 21-meter parachute The spacecraft will do away with its warmth defend quickly. Underneath are a slew of different radar devices and cameras that might be used to set the spacecraft down in a secure spot. Software known as Terrain-Relative Navigation processes photos taken by the cameras and compares them with an onboard topographical map to determine the place the spacecraft is and which potential secure spots it ought to head for. 

At rather less than six minutes into EDL and round two kilometers within the air, the outer shell and parachute separate from the rover, and Perseverance heads straight for the bottom. The descent stage (connected on prime of the rover) makes use of its thrusters to discover a secure spot inside 10 to 100 meters of its present drop location, and slows all the way down to round 2.7 km/h (1.7 mph). Nylon cords on the descent stage decrease the rover to the bottom from 20 meters (66 toes) within the air. Once the rover touches the bottom, the cords are severed and the descent stage flies away to crash into the bottom from a secure distance. Perseverance is now at its new house.

A view of Jezero crater. On the left is a spectral map of mineral deposits formed by water exercise prior to now. On the precise is a hazard map created as an example excessive tough terrain that Perservance will search to keep away from when touchdown.


The science

Spirit and Opportunity helped us higher perceive the historical past of water on Mars, and Curiosity discovered proof of complicated organics—carbon-rich molecules which can be the uncooked components for all times. Combined, this proof advised us Mars might have been liveable prior to now. Perseverance goes to take the following large step:on the lookout for indicators of historic extraterrestrial life. 

Why Jezero crater? It’s a former lake mattress that’s 3.8 billion years previous. A river used to hold water into it, and it’s on the river delta the place sediments might have deposited preserved natural compounds and minerals related to organic life. 

Twenty-three cameras on Perseverance will examine Mars for proof of life. The most essential of those are the Mastcam-Z digicam, which may take stereoscopic and panoramic photos and has a very excessive zoom functionality to spotlight targets (comparable to soil patterns and previous sediment formations) that deserve nearer examine; SuperCam, which may examine chemical and mineral composition within the rock and has a microphone that might be used to take heed to the Martian climate; and the PIXL and SHERLOC spectrometers, which is able to search for complicated molecules that point out biology. SHERLOC’s Watson digicam may even do some microscopic imaging all the way down to a decision of 100 microns (hardly greater than the width of a human hair). 

Briony Horgan, a planetary scientist at Purdue University who’s a part of the Mastcam-Z staff, says scientists are most excited by discovering natural matter that’s both closely concentrated or might solely be the results of organic exercise, comparable to stromatolites (fossilized stays created by layers of micro organism). “If we find particular patterns, it could qualify as a biosignature that’s evidence of life,” she says. “Even if it’s not concentrated, if we see it in the right context, it could be a really powerful sign of a real biosignature.”

After Perseverance lands, engineers will spend a number of weeks testing and calibrating all devices and capabilities earlier than the science investigation begins in earnest. Once that’s over, Perseverance will spend a pair extra months driving out to the primary exploration websites at Jezero crater. We might discover proof of life on Mars as quickly as this summer season—if it was ever there. 

New world, new tech

Like any new NASA mission, Perseverance can also be a platform for demonstrating a few of the most state-of-the-art know-how within the photo voltaic system. 

One is MOXIE, a small system that seeks to show the carbon-dioxide-heavy Martian ambiance into usable oxygen via electrolysis (utilizing an electrical present to separate components). This has been accomplished earlier than on Earth, nevertheless it’s essential to show that it really works on Mars if we hope people can dwell there in the future. Oxygen manufacturing couldn’t solely present a Martian colony with breathable air; it is also used to generate liquid oxygen for rocket gas. MOXIE ought to have about 10 alternatives to make oxygen throughout Perseverance’s first two years, throughout totally different seasons and instances of the day. It will run for about an hour every time, producing 6 to 10 grams of oxygen per session. 

There’s additionally Ingenuity, a 1.8-kilogram helicopter that would take the primary powered managed flight ever made on one other planet. Deploying Ingenuity (which is stowed beneath the rover) will take about 10 days. Its first flight might be about three meters into the air, the place it’ll hover for about 20 seconds. If it efficiently flies in Mars’s ultra-thin ambiance (1% as dense as Earth’s), Ingenuity may have many extra possibilities to fly elsewhere. Two cameras on the helicopter will assist us see precisely what it sees. On its personal, Ingenuity received’t be essential for exploring Mars, however its success might pave the best way for engineers to consider new methods to discover different planets when a rover or lander is not going to suffice.

Neither of these demonstrations would be the marquee second for Perseverance. The spotlight of the mission, which can take 10 years to comprehend, would be the return of Martian soil samples to Earth. Perseverance will drill into the bottom and gather greater than 40 samples, most of which might be returned to Earth as a part of a joint NASA-ESA mission. NASA officers recommend that this mission might are available both 2026 or 2028, which suggests the earliest they could be returned to Earth is 2031. 

Collecting such samples isn’t any small feat. Robotics firm Maxar constructed the pattern dealing with arm (SHA) that controls the drilling mechanism to gather cores of Martian soil from the bottom. The firm needed to construct one thing that labored autonomously, with {hardware} and electronics that would stand up to temperature swings from -73 °C (100 °F) at evening to greater than 20 °C (70 °F) through the day. And most essential, it needed to construct one thing that would take care of the Martian mud. 

“When you’re talking about a moving mechanism that has to apply force and go exactly where you need it to go, you can’t have a tiny little dust particle stopping the whole show,” says Lucy Condakchian, the final supervisor of robotics at Maxar. SHA, positioned beneath the rover itself, is uncovered to a ton of mud kicked up by the rover’s wheels or by drilling. Various improvements ought to assist it stand up to this drawback, together with new lubricants and a metallic accordion design for its lateral (front-to-back) motion.

Before any of these issues are proved to work, nonetheless, the rover must make it to Mars in a single piece. 

“It never gets old,” says Condakchian. “I’m just as nervous as I’ve been on the previous missions. But it’s a good nervous—an excitement to be doing this again.”