In about a week and a half the Mars rover; Perseverance will touch down on the Red Planet. After successful systems checks and time to boot up, this next generation rover will begin to explore our neighboring planet. Although on the surface Perseverance looks a lot like previous rovers such as Curiosity, it is the most sophisticated rover that NASA has ever sent to Mars.
What makes this rover different from all the other robotic Martian explorers? The first factor is its mission set. Previous NASA missions showed that ancient Mars likely had running water on its surface. Perseverance will build on this and seek out evidence that this running water and the accompanying warmer climate of Mars in the past, hosted microbial life.
This difficult goal requires a range of cutting-edge scientific instruments to search for evidence of astrobiology. SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals – lets stick with the acronym) will be used to detect organic matter and minerals. PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry) will map the chemical composition of rocks and sediments. The combination of these instruments will enable scientists to study these types of features with a higher degree of detail than ever before.
The cameras on what looks like the head of the rover (known as the mast) will be able to zoom in on the features of rocks up to 100 meters away. An instrument called SuperCam will use a laser to vaporize rock and regolith and study its composition. Finally, RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment) use radar waves to search for underground geological features.
Another aspect of this mission that sets it apart is the landing site. New technologies utilized during entry, descent, and landing will enable Perseverance to touch down very accurately and autonomously avoid landing hazards. This means instead of aiming for a big open plain, the Mars 2020 mission can land in an area with complex terrain: Jezero Crater.
This crater is 28 miles wide and around 3.5 billion years ago, it contained a river delta and flowing water. Now it has steep cliffs, sand dunes and boulder fields. The science team believes that the river delta and lake deposits could have collected and preserved evidence of ancient microbial life.
Perseverance is only part of a larger mission envisioned by NASA. It will carry with it a system to allows it to take samples and store them on the rover until it can reach a drop off site. This cache of samples will hopefully be returned to Earth via the planned Mars sample return mission to be studied in depth using equipment that can’t be taken with to Mars.
One of the best parts of the mission is that anyone with internet access will get to go along for the journey. The high number of cameras on the rover (19) will provide images direct to the mission website allowing anyone to see what the rover sees. And if you were one of the 10.9 million people to sign up to send your name to Mars, it is engraved on a silicone chip embedded on the rover along with the words “Explore as one” in Morse code.
If you want to explore the entry, descent and landing portion of the mission check out the post Seven Minutes of Terror. Stay tuned for more updates about the Mars 2020 mission including other technologies headed to Mars. To learn see Perseverance in more detail, check out the 3D Model below.