(ORDO NEWS) — Seven minutes of horror, which then should turn into a long mission on the Red Planet. What amazing experiments the Perseverance rover was entrusted with and whether the Ingenuity drone will succeed in making the first flight over the planet, the author of the article figured out.
When it comes to space missions, timing is key. For any such mission to be successful, a delicate choreography of the sequence of commands and actions is required, especially when it comes to landing on the surface of another planet. NASA is set to perform another skilful dance of interplanetary chronology on February 18 when its Perseverance rover touches the surface of Mars and can continue the work of its aesthetically identical brother, the Curiosity rover, which landed on the surface of Mars in 2012. This time, Perseverance’s mission is to find traces of life on Mars, as well as do many other amazing experiments.
This rover weighing 1025 kilograms is equipped with a radioisotope thermoelectric generator that works by decaying plutonium, which should help it avoid the fate that befell the missions of its predecessors Opportunity and Spirit, which were powered by solar panels and were prematurely damaged by dust. covering their solar cells. However, it is still extremely important that after landing, the rover begins to move and work as quickly as possible. This rover is set to carry out a very ambitious number of scientific experiments during its main mission, which will last one Martian year (two Earth years). And while its mission is likely to be extended, given the incredible wealth of samples and data that can be collected at the Perseverance landing site – the delta of the ancient Martian river in Jezero Crater,
But before they start returning the rover to Earth, Perseverance will first have to make its seven-minute landing on the surface of Mars in autonomous mode – it is called “seven minutes of horror” – and then test the operation of its key systems and make the first flight over the surface of another planet in history. Suffice it to say that the rover’s schedule is extremely tight. Of course, the calculations of the timing of certain manipulations during interplanetary missions are always subject to one or another change depending on how everything goes, but there is already a schedule for the first 100 days of Perseverance’s stay on the surface of Mars. (Note that a day on Mars is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.) This is what will happen in those first 100 days.
The first thing Perseverance has to do after landing on the surface of Mars is to fire up several devices and remove the covers from the cameras that the rover is equipped with. He will then take photographs of what is in front of him and behind him, and send those images to Earth via NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Europe‘s Trace Gas Orbiter. What then? Then, of course, the rover will fall asleep for a short while “to recharge its batteries and wait for the next day on Mars,” said Jennifer Trosper, deputy flight program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Over the next few days, the Perseverance rover will perform several important tasks to ensure that all systems are working as required. He will confirm the exact coordinates of his location on Mars while the team on Earth “checks the basic functions of the rover – power, thermals and communications,” said Trosper. “Because if any of these functions don’t work, the rover could be in danger very quickly.” He will also need to determine from the position of the Sun exactly where the Earth is in the sky, which will allow for a direct connection, and then he will need to check his instruments and systems, while continuing to send photographs of the surrounding landscape to Earth.
“It will take us four or five days to do all of this,” Throsper said. It will take the next five days to move from the software that allowed the rover to land on the surface of Mars, to the software it needs to operate on this planet. The rover will then test the operation of its robotic arm, which it will use to collect and store samples, and it will also have to take its first “steps” – a little ride on its six wheels. While he does all this, another team will carefully study the photos of the landing site and prepare for another important test – the first flight over the surface of Mars.
Hidden inside the hull of the Perseverance rover is a small “passenger” half a meter high called Ingenuity. This “Martian helicopter” with four rotating blades will attempt the first ever aerodynamic flight in another planet’s atmosphere – a technological demonstration of what could be the prelude to flying reconnaissance drones in future human missions. In order for Ingenuity to make its flight, the rover will need to find that flat area chosen by the team of this helicopter, which is about 10 days from the Perseverance landing site – that is, at a distance of 1 kilometer from this point, since the rover can develop speed of 100 meters per day.
Once Perseverance finds the right spot, it slowly prepares to launch. Ingenuity is at the bottom of the Perseverance and is placed sideways, meaning it will first need to be slowly rotated and lowered to the surface. Its legs will be deployed with the help of springs, and this helicopter will have to receive the last charge from Perseverance before it switches to its own solar panels. Then, when all systems are checked and everything is ready, the helicopter will be gently lowered to the surface of Mars. In theory, this entire process – aside from charging the batteries – should only take a few minutes. But the engineers will be extremely careful, taking a lot of photos along the way, as a result of which the entire process of deploying the helicopter will take “about one Martian week”
Next, the helicopter mission will begin. It will have approximately 30 days to complete five autonomous flights over the surface of Mars, and each of these flights will last no more than 90 seconds. At first, the flights will be low and short, but gradually the helicopter will have to climb higher and potentially cover distances of several hundred meters. “The fifth flight will be the most difficult, and during it the helicopter will have to climb, fly some distance, independently choose a new landing site and sit on that seat,” Ravich explained. The helicopter can make only one flight per day, and it must be charged between flights. The missions will be monitored by the Perseverance rover, which will take photographs and possibly even video recordings.
At this stage, engineers allow some error in the timing of the planned tasks, and the 60th day will be the earliest, and the 100th day will be the latest date when they will be completed. In any case, the completion of the helicopter test flights – five flights or 30 days, whichever comes first – will mark the end of the first phase of the mission. From now on, attention will be focused on the scientific tasks of the rover. “The engineers will hand over the baton to the science team,” said Katie Stack Morgan, deputy director of the Perseverance Science Program. “Once the helicopter completes its flights, our scientific instruments will come into play.”
The science team will select the first location where the rover will travel in its first weeks on Mars. “Depending on where we sit, we will have a list of points from which we can choose,” Morgan said. “I assume that we will first do a scientific study of the crater bottom before moving on to the river delta, because we will most likely find volcanic rock there, and volcanic rocks are very convenient for obtaining accurate absolute age data.” This will allow you to determine the initial time stamp for studying the samples that the rover will collect in the future.
Over the next few days, Perseverance will collect its first samples on the surface of Mars and leave its first cigar-sized pipe there – a small “bookmark” that the next mission to Mars can pick up in order to bring it to Earth. Its primary instrument, MOXIE, which will capture carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere for its further transformation into breathable oxygen, is likely to remain operational for a long time in the same way as MEDA (a tool for assessing weather on Mars) and RIMFAX, which with using the radar will look for traces of water or ice below the surface.
This mission will not start in the same way as other missions before it – given the demonstration of the capabilities of the helicopter at its early stage. However, once the helicopter flights are complete and the rover has successfully tested all of its systems and instruments to ensure that everything is working as expected, its main mission on the surface of Mars will begin. After the first 100 days on Mars, perhaps sometime in June, the Perseverance rover will be ready to conduct one of the most exciting missions to find traces of life on Mars. At that point, it will already be operating “at full capacity,” as Throsper said, and who knows what he might find on Mars?
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