NASA prepares for Mars 2020 landing

WASHINGTON — NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is on monitor for a touchdown subsequent month that can start in earnest an effort to return samples of the planet to Earth.

The spacecraft, launched July 30, is scheduled to land in Jezero Crater at 3:55 p.m. Japanese Feb. 18. It’s going to place on the floor the Perseverance rover, a automobile much like the Curiosity rover that landed in 2012 however with a unique suite of devices and different enhancements.

“Every part goes rather well. The spacecraft is wholesome, the subsystems are working nominally and group is making closing preparations for EDL and preliminary floor operations,” Eric Ianson, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, stated at a Jan. 27 assembly of the Mars Exploration Program Evaluation Group (MEPAG).

EDL refers to entry, descent and touchdown, generally known as the “seven minutes of terror” because the spacecraft enters the Martian environment and slows right down to allow a secure touchdown of the rover. That course of is much like what Curiosity used, however with some enhancements.

A kind of is the “vary set off,” stated Allen Chen, the Mars 2020 EDL lead, throughout a Jan. 27 press briefing. “With vary set off, we’ve given Perseverance the power to determine for herself when to deploy the parachute based mostly on the place she is,” he stated, enabling a extra exact touchdown.

The second is terrain relative navigation, giving the lander “eyes and a map,” he stated. The spacecraft will use cameras to take photographs of the terrain because it descends and evaluate them to an onboard map. “As soon as she’s found out the place she is, she will be able to fly to a secure spot close by,” he stated, additional enhancing the precision of the touchdown.

Each applied sciences are important, Chen stated, for the mission to go to Jezero Crater. “Once I take a look at it from a touchdown perspective, I see hazard,” he stated, resembling steep cliffs, sand, boulders and influence craters. “If it wasn’t for vary set off and terrain relative navigation, we simply couldn’t go to Jezero.”

That location is engaging to scientists as a result of it seems to have been a lake within the early historical past of the planet, and will include proof of previous Martian life preserved in carbonate deposits left behind. “I a lot recognize the efforts of the engineering group to get us to a harmful touchdown website,” Ken Farley, Mars 2020 undertaking scientist, stated on the briefing. “It’s a spectacular touchdown website.”

A key a part of the mission might be to gather samples from Jezero Crater. Mars 2020 is the start of a broader Mars Pattern Return program, the place Perseverance will cache samples that might be collected and returned to Earth on two later missions launching no sooner than 2026.

That pattern assortment work gained’t start instantly. Farley stated there it’s going to take a while to take a look at the rover’s devices, time that may even be used to carry out flight assessments of Ingenuity, a small helicopter that’s hitching a experience on the rover. “All that’s going to take a number of months, throughout which science isn’t the first focus of the mission,” he stated. “As quickly as we’re completed with that section, we’re able to go.”

Challenge scientists are additionally nonetheless growing the technique for figuring out which samples to gather, provided that the rover has solely about three dozen pattern assortment tubes. Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA, stated on the MEPAG assembly that 255 folks participated in a caching technique workshop final week, with a report on these plans due in mid-February.

The earliest these samples collected by Perseverance could be again on Earth in 2031, assuming the longer term Mars Pattern Return missions launch on their present schedules, however Farley stated it is going to be definitely worth the wait.

“The samples will return to Earth a while within the 2030s,” he stated. “They are going to be analyzed for many years after that. What which means is that the scientists who’re presently on the Mars 2020 science group are unlikely to be those to research the identical. The scientists who will analyze these samples are at school right this moment. They may not even be born but.”

First, although, Perseverance has to land on Mars. Chen stated the mission group is ending closing checkouts of the lander’s EDL system, after which will carry out a “chilly boot” of its laptop system to make sure it’s in the identical situation as its counterparts on the bottom used for testing. “We need to be sure that we fly the automobile identical to we take a look at it,” he stated.

Later updates will refine the lander’s trajectory and provides the spacecraft extra correct details about its place. By the ultimate week earlier than touchdown, he added, “it’s all about ensuring we’re all primed and in the very best place to succeed, virtually actually, for EDL.”

The touchdown actions will look just a little completely different from previous missions, which featured a packed mission management room on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that erupted in celebrations after receiving phrase of profitable landings. The continuing pandemic, Chen stated, implies that there might be fewer folks within the room, and with dividers and different protecting gear in place.

“We now have to instigate these protecting protocols to maintain one another secure,” stated Matt Wallace, deputy undertaking supervisor for Mars 2020. “However assuming we do have affirmation of touchdown, I don’t assume COVID goes to have the ability to cease us from leaping up and down and fist-bumping. You’re going to see numerous completely satisfied folks, it doesn’t matter what, as soon as we get this factor on the floor safely.”

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