Update: Endurance landed successfully on Thursday –. Our previous coverage is below.
NASA perseveranceon the red planet after a journey of 293 million miles heading towards a seven-minute descent to Thursday’s touchdown. The mission is an unprecedented attempt to find evidence of past microbial life at the site of an ancient Martian river, delta, and lake.
Mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Said the spacecraft is healthy and is executing its final approach flawlesslyhow it was ready for a that engineers only half-jokingly refer to it as “seven minutes of terror”.
When asked Wednesday what the chances of a successful landing might be, deputy project manager Matt Wallace said the complexity of the 2,260-pound rover, the heaviest and most refined ever to be sent to Mars, makes predictions difficult.
“We have two million lines of software code that run hundreds of thousands of electronic parts, kilometers of copper conductors. We have more than 70 pyrotechnic devices that all have to fire, guidance and navigation systems that really work with less than a second to work to make all of this work, “he said.
“There are no setbacks. There is no repetition. It’s a difficult and dangerous part of the mission. … I think we did everything we could to make it successful. And we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”
Seven months laterFrom Cape Canaveral, the $ 2.4 billion rover, wrapped in a flying saucer-like aeroshell and protected by a blunt heat shield, will hit the recognizable Martian atmosphere at 3:48 p.m. EUROPEAN SUMMER TIME.
When the spaceship hits the thin, mostly carbon dioxide-containing “air” at a speed of 200,000 km / h, it slows down quickly and can withstand heat shield temperatures of up to 2,370 degrees, while it slows down to almost 1,000 km / h within about four minutes becomes.
At this point, at an altitude of about seven miles and a speed of about 940 miles per hour, a 70.5 foot wide parachute in the supersonic slipstream will deploy and slow the spaceship to only 200 miles per hour until it reaches an altitude of 1, Reached 3 miles.
“This opening of the supersonic parachute carries a high risk,” said Allen Chen, who is responsible for boarding, descending and landing the rover. “It’s a very large parachute, the size of a Little League infield, and it opens in about six seconds while it approaches Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound).”
“But … we actually did supersonic tests at high altitude (on Earth) this time as part of this project. So maybe we have a little more confidence that this will work.”
The rover’s rocket-propelled “Sky Crane” reversing vehicle falls off the parachute and back wall a minute before touchdown and falls to a height of about 70 feet, reducing quick release endurance to the bottom of Jezero crater.
Because of the 127 million mile gap between Earth and Mars, radio signals relayed through NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will take 11 minutes to reach anxious flight engineers at JPL.
As a result, the success or failure of the rover’s seven-minute descent depends entirely on its ability to pinpoint exactly where it is in relation to its landing target and to autonomously adjust its course as necessary to avoid steep cliffs, boulders, sand dunes and other hazards at the end of the mission.
provides one of the best places on Mars to look for signs of past microbial life – but it’s also the toughest landing site NASA has ever tried to get to on Mars.
And it will all be over, one way or another, in just seven minutes, long before flight engineers receive signals confirming the beginning of atmospheric entry. Hence the well-known references to “seven minutes of terror”.
Looking for signs of the past life
If persistence makes it safe, the robotic geologist is ready to answer possibly one of the most profound questions in modern science: Are we alone? Or has life, however primitive it may be, managed to develop on another world, and in a broader sense could it exist on countless other worlds in the cosmos?
Jezero Crater was targeted because it contained 28 miles of water the size of Lake Tahoe about 3.5 billion years ago, fed by a river that cut through the rim of the crater and carried sediment in a fan-like manner Delta deposited, which was clearly visible from orbit. Endurance aims to land on the bottom of the lake shore just beyond the delta.
Engineers plan to spend around 90 days reviewing the rover’s complex instruments and systems. In the first month, they also plan to deploy and test a small helicopter weighing $ 4.5 million and weighing $ 80 million.– This attempts the first powered flight in the air of Mars, a “Wright Brothers Moment” on another planet.
Another experiment will test the feasibility of extracting oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. This technology could help future astronauts produce their own air and rocket fuel. However, the main objective of the mission is to look for signs of past biological activity.
Equipped with a robotic arm, a drill for core sampling and a number of sophisticated cameras, lasers with vaporizing rocks and other instruments, Perseverance will examine debris in the lake, venture across the delta and eventually make its way to the shores of the old lake and promisingly collect samples the way.
Selected rocks and soils are placed in a complex internal carousel mechanism that autonomously photographs them, analyzes them and loads them into airtight tubes the size of lipstick, which are ultimately deposited on the surface or temporarily stored.
NASA plans to send another rover to Jezero later this decade to collect the samples, load them into a small rocket, and blast them into Mars orbit, where a European Space Agency spacecraft will capture them for laboratory analysis brings back the earth.
But first endurance has to land safely.
“It’s always a challenge for us. It’s one of the toughest maneuvers we perform in the space business,” said Wallace. “Almost 50% of the spaceships that were sent to the surface of Mars have failed. So we know that we have to do our work for ourselves tomorrow to get safely to the surface in Jezero.”