NASA is starting to build the excitement for the Mars landing of its most advanced rover to date.
This week the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the mission, posted a movie-like trailer depicting the arrival of its Perseverance rover on the Martian surface on February 18, 2021.
The video (top) features a cool animation showing the final stages of Perseverance’s long journey from Earth that began in July 2020.
“After nearly 300 million miles (470 million km), NASA’s Perseverance rover completes its journey to Mars on February 18, 2021,” JPL says in a message posted with the video. “But, to reach the surface of the red planet, it has to survive the harrowing final phase known as Entry, Descent, and Landing.”
And “harrowing” is certainly the keyword here, with Perseverance and the spacecraft carrying it facing extreme challenges as they approach the Martian surface. The final phase of Perseverance’s voyage to Mars starts when the spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere while traveling at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph).
The spacecraft’s heat shield will be at its hottest around 75 seconds after atmospheric entry, when the temperature at the external surface of the shield reaches about 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit (1,300 degrees Celsius).
To increase the chances of a safe landing, the mission team has added new technologies known as Range Trigger and Terrain-Relative Navigation that weren’t around when Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012.
Range Trigger is a new technique designed to improve the timing of the parachute’s deployment, enabling a more accurate landing position. The parachute will open 4 minutes after entry, at an altitude of about 7 miles (11 km) while falling at a speed of around 940 mph (1,512 kph). Twenty seconds after the parachute deploys, the heat shield will separate and fall away.
Approximately 90 seconds after the heat shield separates, the back shell, with the parachute attached, will come away from the descent stage and rover at an altitude of about 1.3 miles (2.1 km). At this point, the descent stage’s rockets will fire up to slow the spacecraft (for the powered descent phase) from 190 mph (306 kph) at 6,900 feet (2,100 meters) to 1.7 mph (2.7 kph) at 66 feet (20 meters) above the surface.
Terrain-Relative Navigation, which begins during the early part of powered descent, is a kind of autopilot system capable of quickly working out the spacecraft’s location, enabling it to select the safest reachable landing target. Interestingly, the system will be able to change the rover’s touchdown point by up to 2,000 feet (600 meters).
In the final moments, the descent stage will extend nylon cords holding Perseverance, lowering the rover a distance of 25 feet (7.6 meters). When the spacecraft detects that the rover has touched down, the connecting cords will break off.
Perseverance is set to land in Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45-km-wide) impact basin with an ancient river delta, steep cliffs, sand dunes, boulders, and smaller impact craters.
The main goals of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission include searching for signs of ancient life, collecting rock and soil samples for return to Earth, and gathering data for future human exploration of the faraway planet.
The mission will also see an aircraft fly for the very first time on another planet when NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, which is traveling with Perseverance, lifts off from the Martian surface for its maiden flight.
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- NASA to release actual footage of Mars rover landing. Here’s how to watch