Perseverance rover landed on Mars
Perseverance started its journey in July 2020 and travelled 470 million kilometres, after 203 days it finally landed on Red Planet, on the evening of February 18 2021.
Perseverance belongs to the NASA’s Mars 2020 mission and is the fifth American rover to land on Mars after Sojourner (1997), Spirit and Opportunity (2004) and Curiosity (2012). The rover landed, as expected, in the Jezero crater which in the past was filled with water. Here, Perseverance has the task of collecting rock and regolith samples, with the help of its 2.1 meter long robotic arm and looking for the signs of past life. The collected samples will be brought back to Planet Earth in 10 years, with the Mars Sample Return mission.
One of the most delicate and most important moments of the mission was the so-called “7 minutes of terror” when the rover descended from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the planet’s surface, during which there was no possibility of human intervention. About 100 kilometres above the ground of Mars, the protective capsule in which Perseverance was located has been separated from the mother probe and has entered the Martian atmosphere at a speed of about 20,000 kilometres per hour. Then, the friction of the atmosphere has heated the capsule which has thus reached a temperature of 1,350 degrees. At this point, the main parachute has been separated, which together with the atmosphere have slowed the speed of the probe up to 1,500 kilometres per hour. After the separation of the protective heat shield, the rear shell and the parachute have been detached, about 2 kilometres from the surface. Finally, a rocket jetpack, or Sky Crane has been activated, the crane has carried Perseverance a few meters above the surface and then has lowered it via cables.
The fifth rover currently on the Red Planet has already sent the first images to Earth after its landing. Perseverance has carried Ingenuity, the first drone-helicopter equipped with two cameras, one in black and white for navigation and the other in colour for shooting horizontally. The drone will have the task of flying over the sky of Mars, currently it is in the “belly” of the rover because it is not yet ready to fly, but it has already managed to connect to Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Perseverance will be the first rover to test Terrain Relative Navigation, a new automatic system for dodging obstacles such as craters. The robot was created with two “brains”, one always operative to monitor the health of the rover (the temperature and the state of the batteries) and a spare one, useful in case of emergency. In addition, Perseverance is equipped with microphones and 23 cameras, including two Mastcam-Z that are able to offer a 3D vision and a SuperCam to emit light on the rocks and study their chemical composition.
The mission cost 2.7 billion dollars and is expected to last 687 days. “Now the amazing science starts”, said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the NASA’s science mission directorate.