NASA’s Next Mars Rover Is Ready for the Most Precise Landing Yet

From NASA

Illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover begins its descent through the Martian atmosphere
The aeroshell containing NASA’s Perseverance rover guides itself towards the Martian surface as it descends through the atmosphere in this illustration. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land on Mars safely on Feb. 18, 2021.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech Full image and caption

What to expect when the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover arrives at the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021.

With about 2.4 million miles (3.9 million kilometers) left to travel in space, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is days away from attempting to land the agency’s fifth rover on the Red Planet. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the mission is managed, have confirmed that the spacecraft is healthy and on target to touch down in Jezero Crater at around 3:55 p.m. EST (12:55 p.m. PST) on Feb. 18, 2021.

“Perseverance is NASA’s most ambitious Mars rover mission yet, focused scientifically on finding out whether there was ever any life on Mars in the past,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “To answer this question, the landing team will have its hands full getting us to Jezero Crater – the most challenging Martian terrain ever targeted for a landing.” 

Jezero is a basin where scientists believe an ancient river flowed into a lake and deposited sediments in a fan shape known as a delta. Scientists think the environment here was likely to have preserved signs of any life that gained a foothold billions of years ago – but Jezero also has steep cliffs, sand dunes, and boulder fields. Landing on Mars is difficult – only about 50% of all previous Mars landing attempts have succeeded – and these geological features make it even more so. The Perseverance team is building on lessons from previous touchdowns and employing new technologies that enable the spacecraft to target its landing site more accurately and avoid hazards autonomously.

“The Perseverance team is putting the final touches on the complex choreography required to land in Jezero Crater,” said Jennifer Trosper, deputy project manager for the mission at JPL. “No Mars landing is guaranteed, but we have been preparing a decade to put this rover’s wheels down on the surface of Mars and get to work.

All landings on Mars are difficult, but NASA’s Perseverance rover is attempting to touch down in the most challenging terrain on Mars ever targeted. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

You will get to watch the drama of Perseverance’s entry, descent, and landing (EDL) – the riskiest portion of the rover’s mission that some engineers call the “seven minutes of terror” – live on NASA TV. Commentary starts at 2:15 p.m. EST (11:15 a.m. PST) on Feb. 18. Engineers expect to receive notice of key milestones for landing at the estimated times below. (Because of the distance the signals have to travel from Mars to Earth, these events actually take place on Mars 11 minutes, 22 seconds earlier than what is noted here.)

– Cruise stage separation: The part of the spacecraft that has been flying Perseverance – with NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter attached to its belly – through space for the last six-and-a-half months will separate from the entry capsule at about 3:38 p.m. EST (12:38 p.m. PST).

– Atmospheric entry: The spacecraft is expected to hit the top of the Martian atmosphere traveling at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph) at 3:48 p.m. EST (12:48 p.m. PST).

– Peak heating: Friction from the atmosphere will heat up the bottom of the spacecraft to temperatures as high as about 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,300 degrees Celsius) at 3:49 p.m. EST (12:49 p.m. PST).

– Parachute deployment: The spacecraft will deploy its parachute at supersonic speed at around 3:52 p.m. EST (12:52 p.m. PST). The exact deployment time is based on the new Range Trigger technology, which improves the precision of the spacecraft’s ability to hit a landing target.

– Heat shield separation: The protective bottom of the entry capsule will detach about 20 seconds after the parachute deployment. This allows the rover to use a radar to determine how far it is from the ground and employ its Terrain-Relative Navigation technology to find a safe landing site.

– Back shell separation: The back half of the entry capsule that is fastened to the parachute will separate from the rover and its “jetpack” (known as the descent stage) at 3:54 p.m. EST (12:54 p.m. PST). The jetpack will use retrorockets to slow down and fly to the landing site.

– Touchdown: The spacecraft’s descent stage, using the sky crane maneuver, will lower the rover down to the surface on nylon tethers. The rover is expected to touch down on the surface of Mars at human walking speed (about 1.7 mph, or 2.7 kph) at around 3:55 p.m. EST (12:55 p.m. PST).

A variety of factors can affect the precise timing of the milestones listed above, including properties of the Martian atmosphere that are hard to predict until the spacecraft actually flies through.

Mission controllers also may not be able to confirm these milestones at the times listed above because of the complexity of deep-space communications. The flow of detailed engineering data (called telemetry) in near-real-time relies on a new kind of relay capability added this past year to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Engineers expect additional data to return to Earth directly through NASA’s Deep Space Network and two other Earth-based antennas until shortly before touchdown.

It’s important to note that the rover can land safely on Mars without communications with Earth: Perseverance has pre-programmed landing instructions and significant autonomy. Additional communication passes are planned in the hours and days following the landing event.

Once on the surface, one of Perseverance’s first activities will be to take pictures of its new home and transmit them back to Earth. Over the following days, engineers will also check on the health of the rover and deploy the remote sensing mast (otherwise known as its “head”) so it can take more pictures. The Perseverance team will then take more than a month to thoroughly inspect the rover and load new flight software to prepare for its search for ancient life on Mars. During the same period, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team will be making sure their small but mighty robot is prepared for the first attempt at controlled, powered aerodynamic flight on another planet.

“The Ingenuity team will be on the edge of our seats with the Perseverance team on landing day,” said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager at JPL. “We can’t wait until the rover and the helicopter are both safely on the surface of Mars and ready for action.”

More About the Perseverance Mission

A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and will be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and sediment for later return to Earth.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger NASA initiative that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter technology demonstration for NASA.

The press kit for Perseverance’s landing can be found at:

go.nasa.gov/perseverance-landing-press-kit

A press kit for Ingenuity can be found at:

go.nasa.gov/ingenuity-press-kit

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Doug Huffman
February 17, 2021 2:10 am

Best wishes!

Luck plays no part of it or any high tech effort. Watch the 46th administration spin this. God Bless 45!

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  Doug Huffman
February 17, 2021 4:23 am

Luck certainly would be the reason for any climastrologist to ever get anything correct.

Felix
Reply to  Doug Huffman
February 17, 2021 8:23 am

Luck plays a part in everything, whether you call it random chance or anything else.

Design began during 44.

Kevin
Reply to  Felix
February 17, 2021 11:07 am

Yes, Obama personally supervised the design.

Vuk
Reply to  Doug Huffman
February 18, 2021 9:29 am

Pronunciation for Jezero crater: ‘J’ is pronounced as ‘Y’ as in Yesterday, and both ‘e’ also as in ‘yesterday’.

Ron Long
February 17, 2021 2:30 am

Charles, thanks for posting this, I will watch the event for sure. “Astrobiology”? Where does one get a degree in Astrobiology?

February 17, 2021 3:00 am

Yes, a very interesting mission. I wish them well with the little helicopter. If successful it could revolutionise the way we move instruments around Mars in the future.

Johanus
February 17, 2021 3:01 am

” … the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team will be making sure their small but mighty robot is prepared for the first attempt at controlled, powered aerodynamic flight on another planet.”

The helicopter, whose flights will be ‘proof of concept’ missions, will not be participating in the other science missions. Because of the 11-minute latency in Earth-Mars communications, the copter has been designed to be completely autonomous. One of its biggest jobs will be to keep its batteries charged and warm enough to survive the freezing nights (-90C) on Mars.

The sequence of steps just to drop the copter from the rover onto the surface is fascinating.


Last edited 5 months ago by Johanus
Derg
February 17, 2021 3:21 am

.. for the Most Precise Landing Yet”

We can take a craft from earth, launch it into space and land it precisely on Mars, so why can’t we get an accurate climate model with “settled” science?

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Derg
February 17, 2021 3:33 am

The boundary demarcation between science and nonsense is falsifiability. Climate cannot be falsified due to infinite ad-hockery, “But wait, there’s more to it.”

When a space mission launches, there ain’t no more ad-hockery possible.

2hotel9
February 17, 2021 3:22 am

Hopefully these will operate as well as and as long as the first rovers.

Vuk
February 17, 2021 7:39 am

Well, none of us including Elon Musk can get to Jezero Crater, but your next best thing is the village of Jezero after which the crater is named.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jezero,_Bosnia_and_Herzegovinacomment image
with its magnificent Orthodox christian church

Last edited 5 months ago by Vuk
yirgach
February 17, 2021 12:02 pm

As much as I hate to mention it, Mercury is retrograde January 30 to February 21.

The planet Mercury rules communication in all forms—listening, writing, reading, speaking, and so on—as well as activities closely related to communication, like negotiations and contracts. It also rules travel, automobiles, shipping, and mail.
So, when Mercury is retrograde, try to remain flexible, patient, and understanding, allow extra time for travel, and avoid signing onto any new contracts that you’re unsure of. Double check your email responses and check in with reservations before you take that trip.

Of all the thousands of things which could happen, they also pick this date to land…

Vuk
Reply to  yirgach
February 17, 2021 12:11 pm

AE’s theory of relativity first explained precession of the perihelion of Mercury (https://aether.lbl.gov/www/classes/p10/gr/PrecessionperihelionMercury.htm), while Newtonian physics failed (worth mentioning that the Eddington’s solar eclipse initial calculations were wrong, but later corrected). Tho proofs was good enough for Albert to eat his pudding over and over again.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  yirgach
February 17, 2021 12:19 pm

LOL.

Doug Jones
February 17, 2021 9:17 pm

The JPL website is interesting and informative, but the oh-so-artistic web designers used Montserrat Thin 100 font, apparently drawn by spiders in the finest silk. Unfortunately web designers think that artistry overrides important things like GODDAMN LEGIBILITY, but at least it isn’t a dark gray on light gray abomination like some other sites I’ve seen. Oh, wait, this is one of those sites.

This is stupid and antisocial: label{color:#DDDDDD}

DON’T DO THIS!

#/old fart rant

ResourceGuy
February 18, 2021 6:50 am

My prediction is no findings of life in what amounts to a short flood event in Martian geologic history.

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