Countdown to the Mars Rover Landing
The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover and Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, are closer to Mars than ever before as touchdown at the Jezero crater is scheduled for February 18, 2021. Let’s take a look back at its launch and learn how it will land on the Red Planet.
Perseverance with Ingenuity strapped to its belly launched on July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Its mission, upon landing on February 21, 2021, at 3:30P EST, is to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples from the Red Planet for examination on Earth.
Perseverance will hopefully touchdown on Mars next month. The rover will call a 28-mile-wide crater, home, until its research of collecting rock and soil samples is complete. At one point in time, the Jezero crater contained a lake. Could this mean there was once life on Mars?
Touching down on Mars is not easy. NASA has mentioned that only about 40 percent of missions sent to the Red Planet have been a success. Perseverance will be the fifth rover to attempt landing on the dusty surface.
A few years ago, after the successful deployment of the Curiosity rover on Mars, the folks at NASA envisioned a bold new plan to send another mission to the red planet. The mission was scheduled to depart in the then-futuristic year of 2020.
The intense stages of entry, descent, and landing, known as EDL, is a multistep process and one that Perseverance must complete on its own. Traveling nearly 12,500 miles per hour, Perseverance will descend on the Red Planet once it has reached the top of the Martian atmosphere. EDL will be complete within seven minutes.
This illustration shows the events that occur in the final minutes of the nearly seven-month journey that NASA’s Perseverance rover takes to Mars.
The spacecraft housing Perseverance sheds its cruise stage, which houses solar panels, radios, and fuel tanks used during its flight to Mars about ten minutes before entering the atmosphere. During a guided entry through the atmosphere, small thrusters are fired up to keep Perseverance on course. The heat shield slows down the spacecraft in which the supersonic parachute then deploys. Once the parachute deploys, the heat shield separates away from Perseverance. Key cameras and instruments equipped with radar and a navigation system within the rover is used to zero-in on its powered descent. Perseverance cuts the parachute away and guides itself to the dusty surface using rockets. As the rover slows to its final descent speed, it initiates the “skycrane” maneuver. The rover uses its mobility system to lock its legs and wheels into a landing position. As soon as Perseverance’s wheels touch the ground, it quickly cuts away the cables it no longer needs for its arrival on Mars. The rover will have safely touched down on the Red Planet.