The touchdown

The technical phrases for the seven minutes of terror is “entry, descent, and touchdown,” or EDL. It begins when the spacecraft enters the Martian higher environment at round 20,000 kilometers per hour (12,500 miles per hour) and faces quickly growing temperatures. Perseverance is protected by a warmth defend and shell, in addition to a collection of 28 sensors that monitor sizzling 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. Beneath are a slew of different radar devices and cameras that can be used to set the spacecraft down in a secure spot. Software program known as Terrain-Relative Navigation processes pictures 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 immediately for the bottom. The descent stage (hooked up 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. As soon as 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 residence.

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

NASA

The science

Spirit and Alternative helped us higher perceive the historical past of water on Mars, and Curiosity found evidence of complex organics—carbon-rich molecules which can be the uncooked substances for all times. Mixed, this proof advised us Mars might have been liveable previously. Perseverance goes to take the following large step:looking for signs of ancient extraterrestrial life

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 It’s a former lake mattress that’s 3.8 billion years outdated.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

Twenty-three cameras on Perseverance will research Mars for proof of life. An important of those are the Mastcam-Z digital camera, which might take stereoscopic and panoramic pictures and has a very excessive zoom functionality to focus on targets (reminiscent of soil patterns and outdated sediment formations) that deserve nearer research; SuperCam, which might examine chemical and mineral composition within the rock and has a microphone that can 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 digital camera 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 College who’s a part of the Mastcam-Z staff, says scientists are most thinking about discovering natural matter that’s both closely concentrated or may solely be the results of organic exercise, such as stromatolites (fossilized stays created by layers of micro organism). “If we discover specific patterns, it may qualify as a biosignature that’s proof of life,” she says. “Even when it’s not concentrated, if we see it in the precise context, it may very well be a extremely highly effective signal of an actual biosignature.”

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

New world, new tech

Like every new NASA mission, Perseverance can 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 environment into usable oxygen by electrolysis (utilizing an electrical present to separate parts). This has been achieved earlier than on Earth, however it’s essential to show that it really works on Mars if we hope people can reside there sooner or later. 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 completely different seasons and occasions of the day. It is going to 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 can 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 environment (1% as dense as Earth’s), Ingenuity can have many extra probabilities to fly elsewhere. Two cameras on the helicopter will assist us see precisely what it sees. By itself, Ingenuity gained’t be vital for exploring Mars, however its success may pave the way in which 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 accumulate greater than 40 samples, most of which can be returned to Earth as a part of a joint NASA-ESA mission. NASA officers recommend that this mission may are available in both 2026 or 2028, which implies the earliest they might be returned to Earth is 2031. 

Amassing such samples is not 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 corporate 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 night time to greater than 20 °C (70 °F) through the day. And most essential, it needed to construct one thing that would deal with the Martian mud. 

“Whenever you’re speaking a couple of transferring mechanism that has to use drive and go precisely the place you want it to go, you possibly can’t have a tiny little mud particle stopping the entire present,” 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. Varied 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.

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

“It by no means will get outdated,” says Condakchian. “I’m simply as nervous as I’ve been on the earlier missions. But it surely’s a great nervous—an pleasure to be doing this once more.”