Mars Perseverance Watch Party
The NASA Perseverance mission will land on Mars on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 12:55 p.m. Pacific time (2:55 Central).
Join AAPG President Rick Fritz and members of the AAPG Astrogeology Committee and others for a watch party and discussion beginning at 2:30 Central time.
Register in Advance at Zoom: https://aapg.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0qc--srT0sGdGXNQB3etFRahVOmqy-qfns
As this EXPLORER issue goes to press, there are three international robotic missions headed to their encounters with Mars this February. We wish all three missions success!
The United Arab Emirates’ Hope Mission will enter Mars orbit on Feb. 9, 2021. Its goal is to study Martian atmospheric dynamics and weather.
China’s Tianwen-1 Mission is expected to enter Mars orbit on Feb. 10, 2021. A lander with a Mars rover will be deployed in May 2021 for a proposed landing zone in Utopia Planitia. The mission goals are to find evidence for current and past life, characterize Martian soil composition, and map water ice distribution.
The NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars Perseverance rover is scheduled to land at Jezero Crater on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. At the time of writing, Perseverance is 34 million miles from the Red Planet with 88 percent of its journey complete. The Perseverance rover is a fully packed geology science laboratory. The car-sized rover is about 10 feet long, 9 feet wide, 7 feet tall, and weighs 2,260 pounds on Earth. The October 2020 EXPLORER reviewed Perseverance rover’s geology instrumentation. The November 2020 EXPLORER featured an article on Jezero Crater geology.
Seven Minutes of Terror
Only 40 percent of the missions ever sent to Mars have been successful. Perseverance is the fifth rover to attempt landing on Mars. The rover’s complex landing system was successfully pioneered by the Curiosity rover, which landed at Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. The landing sequence is dubbed “seven minutes of terror.” The landing sequence begins by entering Mars atmosphere on a heat shield like a flaming meteor at 20,000 miles per hour. The heat shield is jettisoned at 1,500 mph and a special parachute is deployed to further slow the rover toward its designated landing site.
The landing system will use Terrain-relative Landing for the first time to program adjustments for a more precise landing. The system employs a camera and computer to quickly identify mapped features on the surface and to determine exactly where it’s heading relative to program. The landing computer will select the safest spot in the designated landing zone.
At an altitude of 13 miles and velocity of 200 mph, the rover jettisons the parachute and backshell. It then transitions into powered flight with eight thrusters on its sky crane.
At a final descent speed of about 2 miles per hour, 12 seconds before touchdown, and 66 feet above the surface, the sky crane lowers the rover on a set of cables. As soon as the car-sized rover senses that its wheels have touched the ground, the cables are severed and the sky crane flies away.
A Geologist in the Field on Mars: Core, Baby, Core!
The Perseverance rover has a primary mission span of at least one Martian year (687 Earth days). Hopefully, an extended mission will carry on science for many more years. After instrumentation check out, Perseverance will begin its search for past life in Jezero Crater, test the Ingenuity drone helicopter, and cache samples for future return to Earth.
Perseverance has a drill for coring on its robotic instrument arm. The drill is larger and more capable than the one on Curiosity rover. The upgraded instrument is a rotary percussive drill that can cut intact rock cores. The cores will be placed in sample tubes via a complex storage system. The saucer shaped bit carousel on the front of the rover holds drill bits and provides them to the corer on the turret arm. The bit carousel transfers sample tubes cores into the belly of the rover. Sample return to isolated, sterile labs on Earth will require a separate mission, perhaps as early as 2031.
Good luck and Godspeed on your landing Perseverance! Then get to work!