A few hours ago, the Mars Rover Perseverance and the Ingenuity helicopter landed successfully on Mars, in Jezero Crater. Launched on July 30, 2020, these are the two vehicles of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. With more than 1,000 kg of weight on Earth, Perseverance even surpasses the Mars Rover Curiosity, of which it’s an evolution. For at least a Martian year, it will examine the area of a geologically very interesting crater, collecting samples that mighy be returned to Earth by a future mission.
What were called seven minutes of terror were similar to what led to the landing of the Mars Rover Curiosity on August 6, 2012. On its journey to the red planet, Perseverance was protected by an Aeroshell. A heat shield slowed the rate of descent to Martian soil by the ablation of the shield in the atmosphere. At about 9.75 km altitude, the heat shield separated and a parachute was opened which slowed Perseverance even more. At an altitude of just over 2 km, a thruster system managed the last stage of braking. A few meters from the surface, a system called the Sky Crane brought the rover down into contact with the ground.
The rover reached the surface of Mars just like Curiosity. The signals it sent during and after that maneuver were picked up on Earth by the Deep Space Network and precisely by the Sardinia Radio Telescope (SRT). Immediately after landing, Perseverance sent out the first images of the surface. They were in low resolution to be received quickly but in the next few days images of much higher quality will start arriving.
The next few weeks will be a field test for all instruments and systems of the Mars Rover Perseverance and the Ingenuity helicopter. This is one of the great innovation of this mission, a sort of Martian drone useful for experimenting with flight technologies on the red planet. In this case, it will be used to contribute to perseverance scientific research, in the future, other helicopter-drones using perfected technologies could be used in more complex missions, even supporting astronauts in the area.
Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, had understandable words of praise for all the personnel who collaborated on the Perseverance mission, many of whom are just now starting the real work. Jurczyk highlighted the difficulties they had to overcome in the last year: with a very high profile and highly complex mission to launch, the staff had to face the problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic by finding a way to continue running all the phases of preparation for the launch and the journey of Perseverance and now to run the scientific mission.
The name Perseverance, announced on March 5, 2020, is truly appropriate for the Mars 2020 mission, which can now really begin thanks to the perseverance of the people who worked at it for years to bring Perseverance and Ingenuity to the Jezero crater. The previous Martian missions brought great new data and surprises regarding the red planet, we can expect the same in the coming years from this one as well. The Mars 2020 mission is more oriented than the others to astrobiology and therefore to the search of traces of life, ancient or existing today.