This is how the Perseverance rover will land on Mars today with a critical purpose: to pave the way for the first manned mission to the red planet.
The adventure of the Mars 2020 mission began last July 30. The launch of the space vehicle that has carried the Perseverance rover to Mars went as planned. His trip has lasted just over six months, a period of time that does not seem at all exaggerated if we bear in mind that the distance he has traveled is almost 480 million kilometers. Of course, it has traveled fast. Very fast. At almost 40,000 km / h.
The space vehicle on board that the rover is traveling entered the orbit of Mars several days ago, so today it will culminate, if all goes well, a journey that has several very important challenges. The launch was the first of them all. In fact, many missions that aimed to reach the red planet failed before the space vehicle managed to reach the escape velocity that should allow it to free itself from the gravitational pull of the Earth (11.19 km / s).
A fast-paced journey of more than six months
During his more than six months of travel between Earth and Mars other challenges have been presented that, fortunately, the engineers of NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) have managed to solve. And, without a doubt, the most relevant of them all has consisted of approaching Mars at the right speed and in the right direction for the space vehicle to get caught by the gravitational field of this planet. Otherwise it would have passed by, and probably would have been lost in space.
If all goes well, the landing of the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars will take place at 9:55 p.m. Spanish peninsular time.
The journey has been hectic, as are all those linked to space missionsBut, in reality, the biggest challenge has not yet begun. If today the Perseverance rover manages to land gently on the Martian surface, it will begin its authentic adventure, which will consist of carrying out a collection of experiments that it pursues gather crucial information so that the first manned mission to Mars is possible.
Before getting into flour to review how the landing will be on the Jezero crater that we will witness in a few hours (according to NASA it will be at 9:55 p.m. Spanish peninsular time) we leave you below the video from NASA and JPL in which you can follow all the details of the operation live from mission control:
Seven terrifying minutes full of uncertainty
Seven minutes doesn’t seem like a big deal, but today it’s going to take us forever. This is the time it will take for the Mars 2020 lander to descend from the orbit it is currently in to the surface of mars. Along with him will travel the Perseverance rover and his adventure companion, a small autonomous drone that its creators have dubbed Ingenuity and which we will investigate in the next section of the article.
The space vehicle that has transported the rover to Mars will acquire the role of an orbital module and will act as an intermediary in the communication process between the Perseverance rover and mission control on Earth.
The space vehicle that has been responsible for transporting the rover to Mars will acquire the role of modular orbital, so it will remain orbiting the red planet and will act as an intermediary in the communication process between the Perseverance rover and mission control on Earth.
NASA and JPL engineers will be able to receive the information that the rover and robotic helicopter will collect, and will also be able to act on their programming to send them new instructions. However, the enormous distance between Mars and Earth carries a latency in communications.
The signals that will carry the instructions that the engineers will send to the rover from mission control will travel through space at the speed of light, but still it will take 11 minutes to reach Mars. This lag has a very important consequence: the lander must carry out the descent maneuver in a completely autonomous way.
Must have the ability to make decisions in real time and without requiring the mediation of mission control on Earth because if an unforeseen event occurs, the signal with the information would take 11 minutes to travel from Mars to Earth, and the response with the instructions would take another 11 minutes to travel the existing distance between Earth and Mars.
This latency does not allow intervention from our planet in real time, in an immediate way, so the lander will take control during the seven minutes that the descent will last. And there is something else. The rover and the helicopter also have to be able to make decisions autonomously for the same reason: if an unforeseen event arises during their operation, mission control will not have the opportunity to act immediately. They must be able to answer for themselves. And, in theory, they are.
The video that we leave you next explains marvelously how the Perseverance rover will land on the surface of Mars that we will witness in a few hours. The small Ingenuity helicopter will travel housed in the belly of the rover, and the lander will have to take on the challenge of decelerating from approximately 20,000 km / h to which the maneuver will begin. up to 3 or 4 km / h to which the rover must land on the Martian soil. And you only have a few minutes to do it.
These are the reasons why Mars 2020 is a unique mission
Mars 2020 is not one more mission of the many that have or have had the purpose of reaching Mars. In fact, in recent days they have reached the orbit of the red planet two more missions: Hope from the United Arab Emirates and Tianwen-1 from China. The latter, the last of Mars 2020, incorporates a rover that also seeks to explore the Martian surface and carry out experiments on it.
However, the purpose of Mars 2020 is extremely ambitious. This is what makes it a very special mission; the most important of all that humanity has carried out so far on Mars. The information and samples that the Perseverance rover will collect will be essential to make viable the first manned mission to the red planet, which in principle is planned by NASA for the next decade (unless Elon Musk and SpaceX deliver what they promise and forward to this date).
The information and samples that the Perseverance rover will collect will be essential to make the first manned mission to Mars viable.
The Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity autonomous drone are going to conduct a vast collection of experiments on the Martian soil, but these are the three pillars on which the Mars 2020 mission is built:
- The rover will explore the surface of the Jezero crater where it will land to locate some very peculiar rocks that may have been degraded by the water that existed many millions of years ago on the surface of Mars. Finding these rocks is critical for a reason: they may contain microscopic life signs in the form of fossils. The rover will take samples of these rocks and seal them to keep them perfectly preserved until the first astronauts arrive on Mars and can send them to Earth to be thoroughly analyzed.
- It also incorporates a highly advanced instrument designed to analyze the atmosphere of Mars and capture oxygen that it contains with the purpose of validating its obtaining so that it can be used by people who will travel to the red planet in the future.
- The small Ingenuity drone, which only has a mass of just 1.8 kg, aims to find out if it is possible fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is much less dense than that of the Earth. This is why its lift capacity is much lower, forcing the rotor to rotate at an unusually high speed. This device will carry out five test flights each lasting about 90 seconds and at a height of between 3 and 5 meters. Its activity will last for 30 days during the initial phase of the mission, so it will not take long to see it soar through the Martian atmosphere.
There is no doubt that this mission will have to overcome many challenges to be successful. And some of them are titanic. Still, to all of us who love science offers us the opportunity to get excited and invites us to dream of the possibility that we will soon see human beings walking on the surface of Mars. Fingers crossed that everything goes well and in a few hours we can celebrate that the Perseverance rover is already moving over the surface of the Jezero crater.
Cover image | NASA/JPL-Caltech
More information | NASA/JPL-Caltech