NASA successfully launched its next-gen rover to Mars aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket in Florida. On July 30th, at 7:50 am eastern time, NASA’s latest rover, called Perseverance, began its long journey to Mars. It’ll arrive at the red planet on February 18th, 2021. Watch the launch below!
Perseverance is the successor to the Mars Curiosity rover which used state-of-the-art technology to transform our knowledge of the Martian environment. This newest rover takes everything learned from Curiosity’s engineering and adds much more. Onboard Perseverance is a suite of scientific tools that will broaden our horizons once more in terms of what we know about Mars.
Now that Perseverance has successfully launched, it’ll embark on a seven-month journey to Mars. Upon entering Mars’ atmosphere in February, Perseverance will undergo a similar landing to that of Curiosity’s in 2012.
Encapsulated in an aeroshell and heat shield, the rover will drastically lower its speed with the help of a parachute and retrorockets. Once at an appropriate altitude, the heat shield will release and the capsule’s retrorockets will fire just above the surface. Nylon ropes will then deploy from the aeroshell carefully placing Perseverance on the Martian surface.
One difference between this landing and Curiosity’s will be the addition of a new camera system that will map the terrain for an optimal landing.
If the landing goes well, Perseverance should end up in a dried lake bed called Jezero crater. Mars is thought to have been filled with rivers and lakes around 3.5 billion years ago. Jezero was one such body of water that is of great interest to scientists. The hope is that Perseverance will find evidence of past microbial life in this dried lake bed.
Perseverance is expected to carry out a two-year mission that will involve searching for past life, collecting and sending soil samples back to Earth, and deploying a suite of other experiments.
NASA’s next-gen rover looks very similar to Curiosity but includes features that have never been used outside of the lab before. A few of the more exciting features include:
- A helicopter drone
One of Perseverance’s most exciting instruments is a detachable helicopter drone that will fly over Mars’ surface remotely. The drone has been named Ingenuity and it will be used to scout targets of interest for future missions.
- Self-driving capabilities
During moments when ground-based scientists are unable to communicate with and control Perseverance, the rover will use a specially tailored self-driving system that will allow it to perform some exploration until scientists are able to re-establish a connection.
- High-definition cameras
An array of about 20 HD cameras will assist Perseverance during landing and while conducting experiments. Some of the cameras have an image resolution of up to 20 megapixels, the sharpest of any past rover by far!
For the first time ever, NASA has fitted a rover with microphones that will be used during landing and while conducting sample collection.
- Sample capsule
Once Perseverance collects samples of Martian soil, the rover will place the samples in a capsule that will be launched back into Martian orbit for pickup and delivery back to Earth. This will be the first time we’ll have returned anything from Mars back to Earth.
Aside from these novel pieces of tech, Perseverance also possesses an arsenal of scientific instruments for studying things like Martian weather and potential past life, as well as performing radar imaging. Most of these studies are laying the foundation for the future colonization of Mars.