LOS ANGELES — When NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, a robotic astrobiology lab packed inside a space capsule, hits the final stretch of its seven-month journey from Earth this week, it is set to emit a radio alert as it streaks into the thin Martian atmosphere.
By the time that signal reaches mission managers some 127 million miles (204 million km) away at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, Perseverance will already have landed on the Red Planet – hopefully in one piece.
The six-wheeled rover is expected to take seven minutes to descend from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the planet’s surface in less time than the 11-minute-plus radio transmission to Earth. Thus, Thursday’s final, self-guided descent of the rover spacecraft is set to occur during a white-knuckled interval that JPL engineers affectionately refer to as the “seven minutes of terror.”
Al Chen, head of the JPL descent and landing team, called it the most critical and most dangerous part of the $2.7 billion mission.
“Success is never assured,” Chen told a recent news briefing. “And that’s especially true when we’re trying to land the biggest, heaviest and most complicated rover we’ve ever built to the most dangerous site we’ve ever attempted to land at.”
Much is riding on the outcome. Building on discoveries of nearly 20 U.S. outings to Mars dating back to Mariner 4’s 1965 flyby, Perseverance may set the stage for scientists to conclusively show whether life has existed beyond Earth, while paving the way for eventual human missions to the fourth planet from the sun. A safe landing, as always, comes first.
Success will hinge on a complex sequence of events unfolding without a hitch – from inflation of a giant, supersonic parachute to deployment of a jet-powered “sky crane” that will descend to a safe landing spot and hover above the surface while lowering the rover to the ground on a tether.
“Perseverance has to do this all on her own,” Chen said. “We can’t help it during this period.”
If all goes as planned, NASA’s team would receive a follow-up radio signal shortly before 1 p.m. Pacific time confirming that Perseverance landed on Martian soil at the edge of an ancient, long-vanished river delta and lake bed.
Science on the surface
From there, the nuclear battery-powered rover, roughly the size of a small SUV, will embark on the primary objective of its two-year mission – engaging a complex suite of instruments in the search for signs of microbial life that may have flourished on Mars billions of years ago.
Advanced power tools will drill samples from Martian rock and seal them into cigar-sized tubes for eventual return to Earth for further analysis – the first such specimens ever collected by humankind from the surface of another planet.
Two future missions to retrieve those samples and fly them back to Earth are in the planning stages by NASA, in collaboration with the European Space Agency.
Perseverance, the fifth and by far most sophisticated rover vehicle NASA has sent to Mars since Sojourner in 1997, also incorporates several pioneering features not directly related to astrobiology.
Among them is a small drone helicopter, nicknamed Ingenuity, that will test surface-to-surface powered flight on another world for the first time. If successful, the four-pound (1.8-kg) whirlybird could pave the way for low-altitude aerial surveillance of Mars during later missions.
Another experiment is a device to extract pure oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere, a tool that could prove invaluable for future human life support on Mars and for producing rocket propellant to fly astronauts home.
‘Spectacular’ but treacherous
The mission’s first hurdle after a 293-million-mile (472-million-km) flight from Earth is delivering the rover intact to the floor of Jerezo Crater, a 28-mile-wide (45-km-wide) expanse that scientists believe may harbor a rich trove of fossilized microorganisms.
“It is a spectacular landing site,” project scientist Ken Farley told reporters on a teleconference.
What makes the crater’s rugged terrain – deeply carved by long-vanished flows of liquid water – so tantalizing as a research site also makes it treacherous as a landing zone.
The descent sequence, an upgrade from NASA’s last rover mission in 2012, begins as Perseverance, encased in a protective shell, pierces the Martian atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour (19,300 km per hour), nearly 16 times the speed of sound on Earth.
After a parachute deployment to slow its plunge, the descent capsule’s heat shield is set to fall away to release a jet-propelled “sky crane” hovercraft with the rover attached to its belly.
Once the parachute is jettisoned, the sky crane’s jet thrusters are set to immediately fire, slowing its descent to walking speed as it nears the crater floor and self-navigates to a smooth landing site, steering clear of boulders, cliffs and sand dunes.
Hovering over the surface, the sky crane is due to lower Perseverance on nylon tethers, sever the chords when the rover’s wheels reach the surface, then fly off to crash a safe distance away.
Should everything work, deputy project manager Matthew Wallace said, post-landing exuberance would be on full display at JPL despite COVID-19 safety protocols that have kept close contacts within mission control to a minimum.
“I don’t think COVID is going to be able to stop us from jumping up and down and fist-bumping,” Wallace said.
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Calgary-based EVANS ‘proud’ to be part of NASA’s Perseverance rover project – Global News
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
Saskatchewan scientist helps lead team in Mars mission
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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.
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.
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)
Perseverance’s shadow can be seen in this image, the first one in colour sent by the rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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)
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)
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)
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)
TRIBUTE TO 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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