June 3, 2023
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NASA’s next rover is ready for the most accurate landing in history

7 minutes terror | NASA's bold Mars landing plan persevere

What do you expect when the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover arrives on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021?

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission has approximately 2.4 million miles (3.9 million kilometers) left for space travel, a few days after NASA’s attempt to land its fifth Mars probe on the Red Planet. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the mission is underway, have confirmed that the spacecraft is operational and has achieved its target at the Jezero Crater at around 3:55 pm.  EST (12:55 PST) February 18, 2021

“Patience is NASA’s most ambitious rover mission, focusing on scientifically figuring out if there was life on Mars in the past,” said Assistant Administrator, Science Mission Office, NASA Headquarters in Washington. Says Thomas Zurbuchen, a ter. “To answer that question, the landing team will do its best to take us to the Jezero Crater, the most challenging landscape of Mars to land.”

According to scientists, Jezero is a basin where ancient rivers flow into lakes and deposit deposits in the shape of a fan known as the delta. Scientists believe that the environment here is likely to hold signs of life that settled billions of years ago, but Jezero also has steep cliffs, dunes, and rocks. Landing on Mars is difficult, with only about 50% of previous attempts to land on Mars. These geological features make Mars even more difficult. The patient team has learned from previous landings and is using new technologies that allow spacecraft to more accurately target landing sites and autonomously avoid danger.

“The patience team is completing the complex choreography required to land on Jezero Crater,” said Jennifer Trosper, JPL’s deputy mission project leader. “Landing on Mars is not guaranteed, but we have been preparing for 10 years to put the wheels of this rover on the surface of Mars and get started.”

Watch live on NASA TV about the entry, descent, and landing of Fortitude (EDL), the most dangerous part of the Rover mission, which some engineers call the “7 Minute Horror“. The commentary starts at 2:15 pm. Feb 18 EST (11:15 PST). Engineers are awaiting notification of major landing steps in the following estimated time frames: (These events actually occur on Mars 11 minutes and 22 seconds earlier due to the distance the signal has to travel from Mars to Earth.)

  • Separation of Staging Cruises: For the past six and a half months, with a NASA Ingenuity Mars helicopter attached to the belly, some of the spacecraft that flew in Perseverance will separate from the entrance capsule at around 3:38 pm .. EST (12:38 pm PST).
  • Re-entry: The spacecraft is expected to reach the upper limit of the Mars atmosphere, traveling at 12,100 miles per hour (19,500 km) at 15:48. EST (12:48 PST).
  • Peak heating: At 15:49, atmospheric friction heats the underside of the spacecraft to a temperature of about 2370 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1300 degrees Celsius). EST (12:49 PST).
  • Parachute Deployment: The spacecraft will deploy the parachute at supersonic speed around 15:52. EST (12:52 pm Pacific Standard Time). Accurate deployment times are based on new range launch technology that improves the accuracy of the spacecraft’s ability to reach landing targets.
  • Heatshield separation: Approximately 20 seconds after the parachute is deployed, the protective bottom of the inlet capsule is removed. This allows the rover to use radar to determine distance from the ground and use terrain navigation technology to find a safe landing site.
  • Split hull: The second half of the entry pod, attached to the parachute, separates from the rover and its “jetpack” (known as the descent phase) at 15:54. EST (12:54 PM PST). The jetpack uses a retro-plug to slow down and fly to the landing site.
  • Landing: During the descent phase of the spacecraft using the Sky Crane operation, the rover is lowered to the surface with a nylon rope. The rover is expected to land on the surface of Mars at about 15:55 human walking speed (about 1.7 mph or 2.7 km / h). EST (12:55 PST).

Various factors, such as the atmospheric characteristics of Mars, which are difficult to predict until the spacecraft actually flies, can affect the exact timing of the above steps.

The mission controller may not see these milestones at the specified times due to the difficulty of deep-space communications. The detailed engineering data stream (called telemetry) in near real-time is based on a new type of relay function added to NASA’s Mars exploration orbiter last year. Engineers expect additional data to return directly to Earth via NASA’s deep space network and two other Earth antennas before landing.

It is important to note that the rover can safely land on Mars with no connection to Earth. Patience has pre-programmed landing instructions and essential autonomy. Additional communication channels are planned in the hours and days after landing.

Once on the surface, one of the first pursuits of Perseverance is to photograph the new home and send it back to Earth. The next day, engineers check the status of the rover and set up a remote sensing mast (also known as the “head”) to take more pictures. The patience team then takes over a month to thoroughly inspect the rover and download new flight software in preparation for exploring ancient life on Mars. During the same period, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team confirmed that the small but powerful robot was preparing for the first attempt at controlled aerodynamic flight on another planet.

“On landing day, the Ingenuity team will leave with the Perseverance team,” said MiMi Aung, JPL Ingenuity project manager. “We can’t wait for the rover and helicopter to safely reach the surface of Mars and be ready for action.”

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