NASA’s Perseverance rover is moving across the surface of Mars faster than any rover before. In February the rover broke a 17-year-old record for the longest drive by a rover in a single Martian day, but now it is continuing to speed along toward its new target, the Jezero crater delta.
“Its actual speed is just under a tenth of a mile per hour, but it’s faster than its predecessors,” wrote Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, principal investigator for Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument and co-investigator to its SHERLOC instrument, in a recent blog post about the rover’s progress. “It is making comparatively rapid progress by devoting several hours per day to driving on very smooth terrain.”
It is the cumulative daily progress that matters most to the rover’s long-term science mission, even more than traveling long distances on individual days, Wiens writes: “Overall, it’s not just the single-day drive that matters; it is more difficult to put together a continuous campaign. That requires enough energy, enough time in the day, and enough data volume to Earth to support next-day drive decisions.”
This is because the science and engineering teams need to look at the data coming from the rover to make decisions about where to send it next. The good news is that “Perseverance seems to have all of that, allowing our team to put together a sustained campaign that has met and exceeded expectations. In one week it has traveled about 1.5 km, effectively a rate of one mile per week.”
Perseverance has traveled a total of more than four miles since it landed in the Jezero crater in February last year. You can see the rover’s full progress so far on NASA’s Perseverance location map, which also shows the current location of the Ingenuity helicopter which traveled along with Perseverance to Mars.
There’s still lots of science left for Perseverance to do, but so far the signs are looking good for the rover to have a long and healthy campaign. When it comes to the speed of its progress, it is already exceeding estimations.
Regarding the rover’s progress so far, “I must admit that I was much more pessimistic,” Weins wrote. “Over the years I have seen many unexpected situations that bedeviled planetary rovers, so I tend to expect the unexpected, having a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude toward new achievements. So I am truly excited to see Perseverance pull off this rapid drive campaign.”
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