A little less than two weeks ago, on February 18, 2021, a Mars rover with the bold name Perseverance successfully landed on the Red Planet. Its launch was a critical part of the Mars 2020 campaign and took place on July 30 of the last year. Is he really that tough?
Perseverance rover mission
There are high hopes for Perseverance. The main objective of the NASA space agency is the ability to continue research in 2030. To do this, the rover will have to study the planet for traces of life, determine what climatic zones and soils are present, and identify conditions that may be best for further human exploration.
Perseverance is not the first vehicle ever sent to Mars, but the first to achieve such results. It is equipped with 19 cameras, which, together with the cameras of the lander, took about 23,000 images with a total capacity of over 30 gigabytes of memory. The cameras were also able to show what those critical moments of the landing were, during which experts could not directly control the actions of the structure due to the huge distance between Mars and Earth.
The Mars rover, which is worth an estimated $3 billion, carried the Ingenuity drone, a drone designed for test flights in the Martian atmosphere, during the journey. It is known that this will be the first attempt to carry out a controlled flight on another planet. To launch it, the rover had to find a fairly flat area within 10 days of traveling from the landing site. The drone is currently charging and when ready, the main machine will lower it to the ground and it will make its first flight. This is likely to happen no earlier than a month after the landing of Perseverance on the surface of Mars. There will be five such flights, each for 90 seconds, with a maximum height of 3-5 meters above the ground and a distance of several hundred meters from the launch site.
During the stay, various functions of the rover were also tested, including updated software.
What does the rover consist of?
Almost 20 cameras, 7 scientific instruments, including a device for sampling rocks and Martian regolith, 2 microphones. Besides, electric motors can move a mass comparable to that of a car across the uneven surface of the planet. These are just a few of the most important elements of the Perseverance rover that need to be powered up in some way. Moreover, it should be warmed up in difficult Martian conditions, when at night the temperature drops to -90 degrees Celsius.
Comes to the rescue is a nuclear power source installed at the back of the rover and using 4.8 kg of radioactive plutonium-238 as fuel. Of course, it is well separated from the environment by several layers of protective materials. During research and when moving, the car needs more energy. For such cases, two lithium-ion batteries weighing 13 Earth kilograms each are installed in the case. Perseverance's mission is a minimum of two years. Although, NASA estimates the capacity of the batteries at 14 years of operation.
How did the rover get to the Red Planet?
First of all, for the landing of the most powerful rover, artificial intelligence was developed, which had to independently overcome the difficulties of entering the atmosphere and perform a landing maneuver on Martian land. The atmosphere played a major role in this descent. On Mars, it is too thin to slow down the capsule but dense enough to bring the surface temperature of the structure to 1600 degrees. The capsule in which the rover was located had to do everything by itself because it was impossible to send corrective signals in real-time. She entered the Martian high atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 kilometers per hour, immediately reaching the outer protection temperature.
At an altitude of about 11,000 meters from the surface, a parachute with a size of 21.5 meters opened at supersonic speed. After the destruction of the heat shield, the rover was lowered to the ground using a crane that accompanied it to the ground. Then the car was released so as not to interfere with the activities of Perseverance. After 12 minutes, the landing signal sounded.
Interestingly, the parachute, according to a huge number of viewers of the video broadcast, has a coded message sent by JPL engineers. Their slogan “Dare Mighty Things” is written inside with the help of a binary number system and specially placed red and white segments. And also the coordinates of the location of the laboratory.
Dried lake on Mars
After seven months on the road, having covered more than 470 million kilometers, the rover landed at the foot of the crater Jezero. It got its Slavic name from the small town of Jezero in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The crater selected by NASA has a relatively small diameter - 47.5 km. It is located on the outskirts of the 1200 km diameter Isidis Planitia Plain, formed about 3.9 billion years ago by the impact of a large asteroid. The Jezero crater itself was created a little later, but it is still considered ancient and very complex in geological structure.
The place was not chosen by chance. Today we know that Mars once had a dense atmosphere and liquid water on its surface. And in a fairly large number. Moreover, the discovered traces showed that in ancient times two rivers flowed into the Jezero crater, which formed a lake in the crater up to about 250 meters deep. Consequently, this contributed to the birth of small organisms. At the moment, the bottom of the crater is, of course, completely dry, but researchers believe that it could once have been a wonderful place for the development of even simple life forms.
Scientists were meticulous about the relief of the landing site. Flat surface, lack of large stones or precipices that would be an insurmountable obstacle for the vehicle. Flawless planning of the procedure was critical because even small deviations or delays in the next landing stages could lead to the destination being moved many kilometers. And since the rovers cover relatively short distances on the surface, if they landed in the wrong place, the Perseverance rover could never get where the American agency demanded.
How does the Perseverance rover communicate with Earth?
Depending on the season, Mars and the earth are separated by a distance of 50 - 400 million kilometers. The fastest form of communication today is electromagnetic waves, they then send the collected information to earthlings. Of course, in such conditions, delays cannot be avoided. One of the main causes of signal interruptions in the sun. Online control will also be impossible. In general, in 1 second the radio signal will cover a little less than 18 thousand kilometers.
Once sent, the messages are read by the Deep Space Network. It connects all transmitters and receivers on Earth that are used to communicate with vehicles and astronauts in space. DSN is controlled by NASA JPL. Radio telescopes, the largest of which are 70 meters in diameter, are located near Madrid, Spain, Canberra in Australia, and the United States, at Goldstone in the Mojave Desert.
Perseverance has already sent quite a lot of materials to Earth. Among them are a panorama of the crater Jezero, a selfie of the rover itself, and even an audio recording, in which it is clearly audible that the rover is in a deserted and wide place.
The Mars 2020 mission is truly ambitious. Although judging by the results, the most dangerous moment is over. We can safely say that this is where the study of the nearest planets, and subsequently the entire solar system, is just beginning. So, if all goes to plan, the rover could safely explore the vast expanses of the crater over the next few years. Let's hope he brings some unusual news from the surface of the Red Planet.
In the meantime, we rejoice together with NASA and follow the subsequent missions.