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Meet the orbiters that help rovers on Mars talk to Earth – CNN International



A fleet of orbiters circling the planet act as dual-purpose workhorses, relaying back data and images from the surface missions to Earth while studying various aspects of the planet.
Their mapping capabilities have allowed NASA mission teams to select intriguing landing sites, and their cameras and instruments can keep watch on surface missions and even warn of global dust storms.
When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars on February 18, it will be the most sophisticated robotic explorer yet to venture across the Martian surface. The rover will search for signs of ancient life at the site of Jezero Crater, where a river delta and lake existed 3.9 billion years ago.
The rover will regularly talk to orbiters that swing around Mars, primarily NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO. This orbiter, which arrived at Mars in 2006, will act as the main communications relay to send back data and images gathered by the rover.
Orbiters like MRO and MAVEN, or Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, will help us know when the Perseverance rover lands next week and receive any of the first photos and sounds — since this newest rover has two microphones — it sends our way.
These are just two of the orbiters currently exploring Mars, which also include NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter and ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a collaboration between ESA and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. Earlier this week, they were joined by the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe and China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter, with the latter planning to land a rover on the Martian surface later this year.
These orbiters, along with all of the other missions currently exploring our solar system, send back information through NASA’s Deep Space Network. This “invisible network” of communications relayed through space reaches three ground-based giant radio antennas equidistant from one another.
They are located near Madrid in Spain, Canberra in Australia and Goldstone, near Barstow, California. The placement of each giant dish allows for constant contact with space missions as Earth turns.
The Deep Space Network allows for communications with spacecraft as well as tracking their location — all of which will be imperative during Perseverance’s landing on Mars and its mission in the following years.

A global perspective

The orbiters aren’t just there to help relay information from the InSight lander, the Curiosity rover and the upcoming Perseverance rover. These spacecraft carry suites of instruments and cameras that have made remarkable discoveries about Mars and laid the foundation for future exploration.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter carries the highest-resolution camera around Mars, called the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE. It has provided unprecedented views of surface features on Mars, said Leslie Tamppari, deputy project scientist for MRO.
This artist's concept shows the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter going into orbit around Mars.
While it has captured images showing vast expanses of the Martian terrain, this camera also can focus in on features as small as a kitchen table. The mission has also mapped almost the entire planet.
Altogether, it has six instruments that have helped to understand more about the history of water on Mars as well as seasonal features on Mars, like dust storms or landslides called Recurring Slope Lineae.
The mission has discovered ice beneath the surface of Mars, even in places like the midlatitudes where it appears there were ancient glaciers, Tamppari said.
The orbiter has been circling Mars since 2006, so the team has been able to track changes on the Martian surface over time — an invaluable tool when trying to understand a world so different from our own.
“The more we look, the more we discover,” Tamppari said.
One of the key questions around Mars is what happened to the planet. Scientists believe that Mars was a warmer, wetter planet with a thick atmosphere billions of years ago — much like early Earth — which means Mars was likely habitable. Then, the atmosphere and water were stripped away.
Data collected by MRO and MAVEN is helping scientists understand how Mars lost so much water over 4 billion years. While MRO has been able to study an area ranging from the Martian subsurface to 49 miles above the surface, MAVEN has focused on the upper atmosphere.
This artist's concept shows the MAVEN spacecraft as it orbits the red planet.This artist's concept shows the MAVEN spacecraft as it orbits the red planet.
The MAVEN orbiter arrived at Mars in 2014, the first mission devoted to studying the upper atmosphere of Mars and understanding how it interacts both with the lower atmosphere as well as the sun and the solar wind (which are actually charged particles that stream out from the sun), said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator for the MAVEN mission.
One of the main goals for the MAVEN mission has been to understand the processes that stripped away the Martian atmosphere over time.
“The bulk of the Martian atmosphere has been lost to space through time,” Jakosky said. “It’s the major component in explaining Martian climate change, from a warmer, wetter environment to the colder, drier environment we see today. That stands out as the most important discovery for MAVEN so far.”
Both spacecraft continue to be healthy and will continue forward with their science goals as they orbit Mars.

All eyes on the landing

Images and data collected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter helped with the selection of Perseverance’s landing site of Jezero Crater. So it’s only fitting that MRO will be Perseverance’s main point of contact.
Ahead of the landing, MRO is keeping an eye on the Martian atmospheric conditions. On landing day, MRO will be standing by to pick up all of the crucial information Perseverance transmits through every stage of entry into the atmosphere, the descent through it and landing on the surface.
That information will be sent back to Earth as MRO receives it.
There is, of course, the natural delay caused by distance — it’s an 11-minute delay one way between Mars and Earth.
The rovers need the orbiters to help them talk to Earth because while they have small antennas that could reach Earth, these can’t be used to send back all of the data in a timely manner.
Some of the instruments on MRO can cause interference, so these will be shut off during the communication relay. Fortunately, MRO’s HiRISE camera is not one of those that causes interference. Team scientists will attempt to capture an image of the Perseverance rover as it descends through the atmosphere with its parachutes open, as they did during the landing for Curiosity.
Once Perseverance lands, MRO can use its camera to capture images of the landing site — as soon as the day after landing.
The MAVEN orbiter will also be used to collect data from Perseverance as it enters the atmosphere and lands — and data from the orbiter could also be used to figure out what happened should anything go wrong during landing, Jakosky said.
After the landing, MAVEN will also support the Curiosity rover.
Many of the members of the MAVEN team are also on the Hope Probe team, including Jakosky, and he anticipates a strong collaboration between the two missions as they investigate the atmosphere of Mars.
“This promises to be an exciting time at Mars,” Jakosky said.

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Calgary-based EVANS ‘proud’ to be part of NASA’s Perseverance rover project – Global News



Calgarians working at a tech company are proud to see their work in action as NASA’s Perseverance rover gathers samples from a planet millions of kilometres away.

EVANS’ chief technology officer Matko Papic said the company, which was founded in Calgary in 1980, has been a global player in aviation, public safety and space operations and has focused on designing and equipping control rooms for decades.

He said the company gets involved with the early planning and detailed designs of the space and then designs the consoles specific to customer requirements, they do all the manufacturing and support their customers globally.

Their latest collaboration was on Perseverance, NASA’s rover that landed on Mars earlier this month.

Read more:
Take a look around Mars with Perseverance rover’s HD photo panorama

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The rover specializes in travelling the planet Mars to look for signs of ancient life and pick up a wide range of core rock and soil samples and store them safely, so they can be returned to earth and studied.

EVANS supplied control room consoles to the company in Texas, and Papic said the employees we thrilled with being a part of the project.

“You know, we as a … Calgary-based company are very fortunate and very proud to … be able to be a part of this program.” Papic said

“It’s both a sense of pride and a little bit of a sense of relief. But I think it’s mainly … pride that’s just, you know, being involved even in such a small piece.”

Papic told Global News that there are lots of future opportunities and EVANS is excited to continue to be a part of projects like this.

Click to play video 'NASA releases 1st video of Perseverance rover landing on Mars'

NASA releases 1st video of Perseverance rover landing on Mars

NASA releases 1st video of Perseverance rover landing on Mars

He said that navigating a mission from northeast Calgary when all the equipment is in Houston is not an easy task, but it is very doable.

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“I think a big part of that is we’ve been able to develop a very unique and value-added product offering, and I think the fact that we support our customers and every aspect of their operational needs and the fact that we can support our customers globally, Papic said.

“With these specific solutions its really made a difference and its helped evolve EVANS into a global player.”

EVANS involvement in Perseverance was primarily in the control room and all elements were designed and manufactured in Calgary.

“That’s usually where Evans does most of our work is within the control room environment, and it varies by the type of mission. But they’re all control rooms that require continuous monitoring.” Papic said

Papic mentioned that due to high-level requirements, these projects can take quite some time to complete.

“We want to make sure that we’re focusing on capturing all the requirements and making sure that the design is absolutely perfect because the last thing we want is, you know, something that Evans provided to be a hindrance in the overall mission and so we’re very, very diligent to making sure that everything is functioning perfectly before it actually gets commissioned and goes live.” Papic said

The company’s relationship with NASA began decades ago as they began supporting them on some of the space shuttle missions both from a mission and launch control standpoint. EVANS has been involved with some other well-known projects.

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“We’ve done projects for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; we’ve done projects for the Hubble Space Telescope, so different programs within NASA,” Papic said.

“And we’ve been very fortunate as an organization that NASA continued to see us as a partner in helping them develop some of these solutions.”

Click to play video 'Saskatchewan scientist helps lead team in Mars mission'

Saskatchewan scientist helps lead team in Mars mission

Saskatchewan scientist helps lead team in Mars mission

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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New Mars image from rover landing site shows the red planet in high definition – CTV News



The Perseverance rover has had a chance to settle in on Mars since landing last Thursday, so it’s doing what every new resident does these days — sending back photos of its new home.

In this case, it’s a steady stream of amazing imagery from another planet.

The rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument, a pair of zoomable color cameras, returned 142 images of its landing site on February 21. The teams at NASA stitched them together to create the instrument’s first 360-degree panorama.

This is the first high-definition look at Jezero Crater, the site of a 3.9 billion-year-old dry lake bed where the rover will search for signs of ancient life over the next two years.

In the image, the crater rim and the cliff face of an ancient river delta can be seen in the distance. It’s not unlike images shared previously by NASA’s Curiosity rover of its exploration site in Gale Crater.

“We’re nestled right in a sweet spot, where you can see different features similar in many ways to features found by Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity at their landing sites,” said Jim Bell, principal investigator of the Mastcam-Z instrument at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, in a statement.

Perseverance also sent back a panorama using its Navcams, or navigation cameras, over the weekend.

Mastcam-Z is a new feature on Perseverance that builds off of lessons learned from the Curiosity rover’s Mastcam instrument. Curiosity’s Mastcam has two cameras with a fixed focal length, while Mastcam-Z has zooming capability.

These two cameras are like high-definition eyes on Perseverance as she shares her view with a team of scientists and engineers at home.

They sit on the rover’s mast, reaching eye level for a person who stands just over 6 and a half feet tall. The cameras are 9.5 inches apart to allow for stereo vision.

The color imagery produced by Mastcam-Z is a lot like the quality you would expect from your own digital HD camera, NASA officials said. These cameras can not only zoom but also can focus to capture video, panoramas and 3D images.

This will allow scientists on the mission’s team to examine objects that are both close and far away from the rover.

In the panorama, details as small as 0.1 to 0.2 inches across can be seen if an object is near the rover, while those between 6.5 to 10 feet across in the distance are also visible.

These capabilities will aid the overall goals of the mission in both understanding the geologic history of the crater and identifying the types of rock that the rover’s other instruments should study. The views afforded by Mastcam-Z will also help scientists determine which rocks they should collect samples from that will eventually be returned to Earth by future missions.

The team working on the Mastcam-Z instrument will share more details about the panorama Thursday, February 25 at 4 p.m. ET on NASA’s website and social media accounts.

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The best images from NASA's Perseverance rover so far – CTV News



Almost as soon as NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars it was beaming back images of its surroundings.

The first pictures were black and white and a little grainy. They were soon followed by video and high definition images of the rocks, ridges and the rover itself.

Here’s a collection of some of the best images to come from Perseverance’ so far.


First image from Perseverance

This is the first image NASA’s Perseverance rover sent back after touching down on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. The view, from one of Perseverance’s Hazard Cameras, is partially obscured by a dust cover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

First colour image from Perseverance

Perseverance’s shadow can be seen in this image, the first one in colour sent by the rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)


Perseverance's descent

As a teaser to some of the ground-breaking video to come, NASA released this image of Perseverance being gently lowered onto Mars’s surface during its descent on Feb. 18. (NASA via AP) 


Perseverance's secret message

In video sent back by Perseverance, we can see the spacecraft’s parachute open, revealing a mix of white and orange markings on the inside. These were later revealed to be part of secret message left by NASA systems engineer Ian Clark. Clark used binary code to spell out “Dare Mighty Things” on the stripes of the 21-metre parachute. Also included were the GPS coordinates of the mission’s headquarters in Pasadena, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)


Panorama from Perseverance

While we’ve seen panorama images from previous rover missions, Perseverance’s high definition cameras are revealing details from Mars like we’ve never seen before. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)


Wind-carved rock on Mars

This oddly-shaped rock carved by the elements on Mars’ surface was spotted near Perseverance’s landing zone and is an example of the high-quality images that we can expect from the rover’s cameras. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)


Rover 'family history'

Along with loads of science instruments Perseverance is also boasting a decal showing the history of NASA’s rovers on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)


'Moment of respect' for the descent stage

“A moment of respect for the descent stage,” NASA tweeted from the Perseverance’s twitter account after about a week after the landing. The image above shows a smoke plume from where the descent stage (the part of the spacecraft that lowered Perseverance gently to Mars’ surface) made its “intentional surface impact.” (@NASAPersevere/Twitter)

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