NASA is going aunch its fifth Mars rover: A robotic scientist the dimensions of an SUV.
The $US2.4 billion, nuclear-powered vehicle, named Perseverance (“Percy” for short) is designed to trundle along the Martian surface, mine for signs of ancient life, capture high-quality video and audio, and collect rock and soil samples for an eventual return trip to Earth.
In preparation for future human landings on Mars, the rover also will carry an experimental device that converts CO2 from the planet’s thin atmosphere into oxygen, and test samples of potential space suit material to ascertain how well they delay against Mars’ radioactivity.
And if that wasn’t enough, the rover’s belly contains a helicopter named Ingenuity.
Perseverance is scheduled to launch at 7:50 am ET on Thursday 30 July atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The liftoff is going to be streamed to survive NASA TV – you’ll watch below.
The liftoff will mark the third Mars-bound mission to start this month. It follows the launch of the United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe, which aims to orbit Mars to chart a worldwide map of its climate.
China’s Tianwen-1 mission, meanwhile, is predicted to place a rover on Mars which will use radar to detect underground pockets of water and also put a spacecraft into orbit to study Mars’ atmosphere.
The launches were all scheduled closely together so as to hit a critical window in Mars’s orbit: the amount when its path aligns most closely thereupon of Earth.
That window comes in February 2021, which is when the spaceships are expected to reach Mars. Because of fuel and weight constraints, missing the prospect to launch now would have required space agencies to attend until 2022.
This small helicopter is set to be the first aircraft to fly on another planet.
Ingenuity is a 1.8kg (4lb) helicopter that will ride to Mars attached to the belly of Nasa’s Perseverance Rover and is due to arrive in February 2021.
Nasa wants to be first to demonstrate powered flight in Mars’ thin atmosphere, but that’s not so straight-forward on Mars.
Perseverance is scheduled to land at Mars’s Jezero Crater on February 18. The crater, once flooded with water, was selected after five years of careful study by planetary scientists because its rock and clay have the potential to contain electrochemical signatures of the former life.
The same features that make the Jezero crater appealing for study make it a difficult place to land a rover, however: The site’s varied terrain is filled with dips, ridges, and boulders.
But engineers have made advances in landing technology, including the event of a more precisely timed landing parachute, since NASA’s last rover, Curiosity, arrived on Mars in 2012. Most recently, the agency successfully dropped its InSight lander on Mars in November 2018.
If all goes well, Perseverance is going to be the fifth Mars rover mission managed by NASA’s reaction propulsion Laboratory, and also the fifth successful Mars rover landing overall (unless China’s lands first).
Yet another Mars rover called Rosalind Franklin – a collaboration between the ECU Space Agency and therefore Russia’s Roscosmos – is scheduled to launch in 2022.