NASA successfully launches its Perseverance rover on mission to Mars

NASA has successfully launched its Perseverance rover on its journey to Mars, where it should land in the Jezero crater on February 18, 2021.

The rover, along with the experimental Ingenuity helicopter, was launched atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 7:50 a.m. ET on Thursday, July 30.

How the launch proceeded

The Perseverance rover launches atop an Atlas V rocket
The Perseverance rover launches atop an Atlas V rocket on July 30, 2020. NASA TV

Forty five seconds after launch, the rocket hit max q (the point of the flight at which the vehicle reaches maximum dynamic pressure). Around two minutes after launch, the solid rocket boosters were no longer required and were jettisoned.

One and a half minutes after this, the payload fairing or nose cone which protected the Perseverance rover during the launch was no longer needed either. The fairing split into two halves and was allowed to fall away from the rocket.

Approximately four and a half minutes after launch at the rocket approached the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, the main booster was also jettisoned. This allowed the Centaur engine to begin its first burn, moving the craft into orbit.

This was followed by a period of 30 minutes of coasting, after which a second engine burn carried the rover out of orbit and pointed it toward Mars.

Around one hour after launch, the spacecraft successfully separated from the rocket.

At around 9:15 a.m. ET, mission control achieved signal acquisition, getting the first communications from the craft. This marked the final major milestone in the launch, with the rover now on its way to Mars safely.

About the rover

Engineers observe the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover in a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Dec. 17, 2019.
Engineers observe the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Dec. 17, 2019. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The main goal of the Perseverance rover is to search for signs that there was once life on Mars. Scientists know that millions of years ago, Mars has considerable liquid water on its surface and was in many ways similar to Earth, and could potentially have hosted life.

The Perseverance rover will join NASA’s Curiosity rover and InSight lander on Mars, but it will investigate a different area of the planet called the Jezero crater.

This crater is of particular interest as it is the site of an ancient lake that has long since dried up. If there were ever microbial life on Mars, this would be the ideal location to find evidence of that.

In addition, the rover carries an experiment on board called MOXIE which intends to create oxygen from carbon dioxide, to pave the way for human exploration of the planet.

The rover is also accompanied by Ingenuity, a small helicopter which will become the first heavier-than-air vehicle to ever fly on another planet. If successful, this opens the door to a whole new approach to exploring Mars from the air in future missions.

Updated June 30: Added information about second burn, spacecraft separation, and signal acquisition.

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