To casual observers, landing a rover on Mars can seem kind of like old news, believe it or not, especially after all of NASA’s successes. But many are likely not aware of the so-called “Mars Curse.” The fact is, many of the spacecraft that attempt to land there fail and crash.
Next to run the gauntlet of the Mars curse is NASA’s Perseverance rover. It’ll attempt its long-awaited landing at Jezero Crater on February 18. The people at NASA have given the Perseverance rover some finely tuned tools to get it to the Martian surface safely and to beat the Mars curse.
The Perseverance rover is landing at Jezero Crater because NASA thinks they can do the best science there. The mission’s goal is to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples for a potential return to Earth. Jezero Crater is an ancient, dried-up paleo-lakebed. It holds both preserved sediments and a delta. According to NASA, the crater is one of the “oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer.” Scientists think that if there’s any fossilized evidence of ancient life, they may find it at Jezero.
But it’s also hazardous to land in.
“Jezero is 28 miles wide, but within that expanse, there are a lot of potential hazards the rover could encounter: hills, rock fields, dunes, the walls of the crater itself, to name just a few,” said Andrew Johnson, principal robotics systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “So if you land on one of those hazards, it could be catastrophic to the whole mission.”
About 60% of all spacecraft sent to Mars fail. Perseverance will use what’s known as terrain relative navigation (TRN), a technology first used in cruise missiles, to avoid that same failure. In broad terms, TRN consists of two elements: an onboard map of the landing area with elevations and hazards, and a navigation camera. As Perseverance approaches its landing ellipse, the camera compares its real-time images with the onboard map and commands the lander’s rockets to direct the craft away from known hazards.
Overall, the rover’s autonomous landing system is known as landing visions system, or LVS.
“For Mars 2020, LVS will use the position information to figure out where the rover is relative to safe spots between those hazards. And in one of those safe spots is where the rover will touch down,” Johnson explained in a press release.
This type of system has been under development for some time now. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx used one in its risky sample-collection maneuver at asteroid Bennu. That system was called Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) and it effectively guided the spacecraft down to Bennu’s boulder-littered surface. OSIRIS-REx’s mission was successful, and the samples should arrive on Earth in September 2023.
But a system like Perseverance’s doesn’t come without a lot of hard work and lead time. It’s been in development for several years, and hopefully, all that development and testing will pay off.
Swati Mohan is the guidance, navigation, and control operations lead for Mars 2020 at JPL. The first two stages of testing were hardware and simulation, and they were both done in a lab. In the press release, Mohan said, “That’s where we test every condition and variable we can. Vacuum, vibration, temperature, electrical compatibility—we put the hardware through its paces.”
Once the hardware has been subjected to all that scrutiny, it’s time for simulations. “Then with simulation, we model various scenarios that the software algorithms may encounter on Mars—a too-sunny day, very dark day, windy day—and we make sure the system behaves as expected regardless of those conditions,” Mohan said.
After that, the system was ready for flight tests. But not autonomously. Instead, it was tested on a helicopter, where it was used to estimate the helicopter’s altitude and position.
“That got us to a certain level of technical readiness because the system could monitor a wide range of terrain, but it didn’t have the same kind of descent that Perseverance will have,” said Johnson. “There was also a need to demonstrate LVS on a rocket.”
The LVS system was tested repeatedly in the field on a rocket. That rocket, the Masten Space System Xombie, served as a test-bed for LVS starting in 2014. NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program funded those tests.
“Testing on the rocket laid pretty much all remaining doubts to rest and answered a critical question for the LVS operation affirmatively,” said JPL’s Nikolas Trawny, a payload and pointing control systems engineer who worked closely with Masten on the 2014 field tests. “It was then that we knew LVS would work during the high-speed vertical descent typical of Mars landings.”
“The testing that Flight Opportunities is set up to provide was really unprecedented within NASA at the time,” said Johnson. “But it’s proven so valuable that it’s now becoming expected to do these types of flight tests. For LVS, those rocket flights were the capstone of our technology development effort.”
The LVS system is complex. Not only can it guide the Perseverance rover to the surface, but it can do so in the most fuel-efficient fashion. Fuel for the lander’s rockets is limited, obviously, so there’s really only one chance to get it right. Altogether, the system was tested successfully and is now only days away from the real deal: the landing at Jezero Crater.
But even with all of the thorough testing of the autonomous system, there can still be surprises. Real life is always different than simulations, and though NASA is confident in the system, they’ll still be ready to respond and adapt to any problems or changing conditions.
“Real life can always throw you curve balls. So, we’ll be monitoring everything during the cruise phase, checking power to the camera, making sure the data is flowing as expected,” Mohan said. “And once we get that signal from the rover that says, “I’ve landed and I’m on stable ground,” then we can celebrate.”
Perseverance will make sure it has a safe landing (2021, February 12)
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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
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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.
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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