Perseverance landing on Mars: a new milestone for humanity

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On February 18, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet.

The harrowing approach, which the engineers of the MARS 2020 mission named as the “seven minutes of terror”, has ended well. The entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase of a mission to Mars is in fact often referred to as the “seven minutes of terror”, because the sequence is so heartbreaking and it happens faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars, keeping in mind that the distance between Earth and Mars is about 293 million miles.

The journey, which lasted seven months, was therefore successfully completed, but now a new chapter is opening. The Commission phase begins, the teams involved in the next two months will have to verify that the rover and the instruments are in perfect condition, then the rover will begin its mission. And even before starting, the rover has already given us some nice images.

Quick Facts:

  • Mission name: Mars 2020
  • Rover name: Perseverance
  • Main Job: to seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth.
  • Rover name: Perseverance
  • Launch date: 30 July 2020
  • Landing date: 18 February 2021
  • Landing site: Jezero Crater, Mars

Perseverance is an evolution of the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover. As big as a car, a little over 3 meters long (excluding the arm), 2.7 meters wide and 2.2 meters high. At 1,025 kilograms, it weighs less than a compact car. In a way, the parts of the rover are similar to what any living creature would need to keep it “alive” and able to explore.

The mission’s duration should be at least one Mars year (about 687 Earth days). Perseverance has a whole set of new scientific instruments – from microphones, which will allow us to hear for the first time the sounds of Mars, to the first demonstration helicopter: Ingenuity. There is no scientific goal other than to prove that you can fly on Mars. But that’s not all, the rover is equipped with a SuperCam made in France. In fact, the Center National d’Etudes Spatiales, Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (CNES / IRAP) collaborates, as previously with Curiosity, on this mission. It is a tool that examines rocks and soils with a camera, a laser and a spectrometer to look for organic compounds that could be related to past life on Mars. It can identify the chemical and mineral composition of targets as small as a pencil tip from a distance of over 7 meters.

Among the most exciting news and in line with our times there is the use of Artificial Intelligence; the robot has infact chosen the most appropriate place to land. The approach represents the riskiest moment for any spacecraft.

Another innovative tool is the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL. PIXL is a tool the size of a lunch basket carried at the end of the Perseverance robotic arm. Using a drill attached to the end of the arm, the rover will collect rock samples. So the mission of Perseverance is to collect, but we understand that there is a second phase: once collected, the idea is to bring everything to Earth. So other missions are planned. The samples found by Perseverance will be collected by ESA’s Sample Fetch Rover, which will then deliver them to a NASA Mars Ascent Vehicle, which will launch them into orbit around Mars.

Therefore, the launch of Sample Retrieval Lander is expected, which will land on a platform near the Mars 2020 site. From here, a small ESA rover – the Sample Fetch Rover – will depart to retrieve the samples.

After collecting them in what can be likened to an interplanetary treasure hunt, he will return to the lander platform and load them into one large container on the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). This vehicle will perform the first take-off from Mars and transport the container into the orbit of Mars.

Once in orbit around Mars, ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter will meet with the samples more than 70 million km far from Earth, orbiting Mars and taking them in a highly secure containment capsule, supplied by NASA, in order to land on Earth around 2030

So the adventure continues and our dear old Europe will finally touch Martian soil safely, at least that’s what we hope for.

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