NASA’s new Mars rover, which launched Thursday morning, carries a machine that will produce oxygen from carbon dioxide in Mars’ thin atmosphere.
The experimental device, known as MOXIE, could help pave the way for human exploration of Mars.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars roverlaunched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday morning, carrying a host of cutting-edge technology including high-definition video equipment and the first interplanetary helicopter.
Many of the tools are designed as experimental steps toward human exploration of the red planet. Crucially, Perseverance is equipped with a device called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE: an attempt to produce oxygen on a planet where it makes up less than .2% of the atmosphere.
Oxygen is a cumbersome payload on
missions. It takes up a lot of room, and it’s very unlikely that astronauts could bring enough of it to Mars for humans to breathe there, let alone to fuel spaceships for the long journey home. Advertisement
That’s the problem MOXIE is looking to solve. The car-battery-sized robot is a roughly 1% scale model of the device scientists hope to one day send to Mars, perhaps in the 2030s.
Like a tree, MOXIE works by taking in carbon dioxide, though it’s designed specifically for the thin Martian atmosphere. It then electrochemically splits the molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide, and combines the oxygen molecules into O2. It analyzes the O2 for purity, shooting for about 99.6% O2. Then it releases both the breathable oxygen and the carbon monoxide back into the planet’s atmosphere. Future scaled-up devices, however, would store the oxygen produced in tanks for eventual use by humans and rockets.
The toxicity of the carbon monoxide produced isn’t a worry, according to Michael Hecht, a principal investigator for MOXIE. The gas reenters the Martian atmosphere but won’t alter it very much.
“If you release the carbon monoxide into the Mars atmosphere, eventually it will combine with a very small amount of residual oxygen that’s there and turn back into carbon dioxide,” Hecht previously told Business Insider.
For that reason, the carbon monoxide also wouldn’t hinder a potential biosphere on Mars — a closed, engineered environment where Earthly life could thrive.Advertisement
Because MOXIE is a small proof-of-concept experiment, it won’t produce much oxygen — if all goes well, it should be producing about 10 grams per hour, which is roughly the amount of oxygen in 1.2 cubic feet of Earth air. For context, humans need about 19 cubic feet of air per day.
MOXIE will test its capabilities by producing oxygen in one-hour increments intermittently throughout the duration of Perseverance’s mission, according to NASA. The device should start working soon after the rover lands on February 18, 2021.
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance roverlifted off successfully today, July 30, at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT) aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The rover will take about seven months to travel to the Red Planet and, on Feb. 18, 2021, will land in Mars’ Jezero Crater to search for signs of life, explore the planet’s geology and much more.
Mars rover Perseverance out of ‘safe mode’
NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, which went into a protective “safe mode” shortly after its launch yesterday, is back to normal operations and cruising toward the Red Planet.
In an announcement today, July 31, NASA officials reported that Perseverance is healthy and out of “safe mode” following a temperature variance that prompted the rover’s onboard computer to enter the protective state. The spacecraft got a bit colder than expected when it zoomed through Earth’s shadow.
“With safe mode exit, the team is getting down to the business of interplanetary cruise,” Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in an update. “Next stop, Jezero Crater.”
“First, the proximity of the spacecraft to Earth immediately after launch was saturating the ground station receivers of NASA’s Deep Space Network. This is a known issue that we have encountered on other planetary missions, including during the launch of NASA’s Curiosity rover in 2011. The Perseverance team worked through prepared mitigation strategies that included detuning the receivers and pointing the antennas slightly off-target from the spacecraft to bring the signal within an acceptable range. We are now in lock on telemetry after taking these actions.
“The second issue was a transient event involving temperature on the spacecraft. The mission uses a liquid freon loop to bring heat from the center of the spacecraft to radiators on the cruise stage (the part that helps fly the rover to Mars), which have a view to space. We monitor the difference in temperature between the warm inlet to the radiators and the cooler outlet from the radiators. As the spacecraft entered into Earth’s shadow, the Sun was temporary blocked by Earth, and the outlet temperature dropped. This caused the difference between the warm inlet and cooler outlet to increase. This transient differential tripped an alarm and caused the spacecraft to transition into the standby mode known as ‘safe mode.’
“Modeling by the team predicted something like this could happen during eclipse – the time when the spacecraft is in Earth’s shadow – but we could not create this exact environment for tests prior to launch. Nor did we have flight data from Curiosity, because its trajectory had no eclipse. We set the limits for the temperature differential conservatively tight for triggering a safe mode. The philosophy is that it is far better to trigger a safe mode event when not required, than miss one that is. Safe mode is a stable and acceptable mode for the spacecraft, and triggering safe mode during this transitional phase is not problematic for Mars 2020.
“With the understanding of the causes of these issues, we are conducting the operations necessary to move the spacecraft back out of safe mode and into normal cruise mode.”
Percy’s first day to Mars
Today (July 31), NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover begins its first full day in its roughly seven-month trip to the Red Planet. Perseverance, or “Percy,” is now one of three craft traveling to Mars and slated to arrive in February 2021.
The first to launch was the United Arab Emirates’ “Hope” orbiter, the second was China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter/lander/rover combined mission and now, Percy is well on its way to Mars where it will land in an ancient Martian Lake — Jezero Crater.
While Hope will orbit Mars and Tianwen-1 will attempt to orbit around, land on the planet and explore, Percy will study Mars in a number of unique ways. One of the things Percy will do that has never been done before is the rover will cache samples of Martian material that will be picked up and transported to Earth with a future mission. Learn all about Percy’s sample-return efforts here.
Update on Perseverance rover in Safe Mode
Space.com has new details on the Perseverance Mars rover’s “safe mode” event that occurred shortly after launch.
Matt Wallace, deputy project manager for Mars 2020 with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Space.com contributor Amy Thompson at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that Perseverance’s safe mode condition has been traced to temperature fluctuations in the cooling system for its nuclear battery. Here’s her report:
The rover’s power source is a nuclear powered generator known as an MMRTG. It’s attached to the rover, which is cocooned inside the entry capsule of the vehicle. When the rover is out in the breeze on the Martian surface, it’s fine. However, when it’s in the entry capsule (which will protect Perseverance during entry, descent and landing on Mars), things can get a bit warm.
To help mitigate this issue, the vehicle relies on a cooling system that pumps freon from the MMRTG to a set of radiators. While this process is cycling, computers monitor the temperature differences to make sure the rover stays within preset parameters.
As the spacecraft transitioned into its brief eclipse period — a part of its flight when the sun is being blocked by the Earth — that temperature difference increased rapidly, triggering the craft to enter safe mode.
Wallace explained that since engineers cannot duplicate the space environment here on Earth, they estimate what the temperatures should be and set very conservative parameters.
“Unfortunately, our analysis is never really perfect,” he told Space.com. “Curiosity didn’t have an eclipse in its flight trajectory so we didn’t have flight data to know what was going to happen.”
“The spacecraft was never in jeopardy,” he added. “Our philosophy is to be overly conservative on the parameters because we’d much rather trigger a safing event we didn’t need, than miss a safing event we do need.”
The team will continue to analyze the telemetry data that the vehicle has sent so far and double check that this is indeed the hiccup. Once that is complete, the team can put the rover back in an operational status.
Wallace says he expects for the spacecraft to return to normal operations mode tomorrow (July 31). But the team is not in any rush and are taking their time to carefully review all the data. Wallace says there’s plenty of time before the next big phase of the mission.
Perseverance rover in ‘safe mode’ after launch
NASA officials just confirmed that the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover entered a protective “safe mode” after its launch today due to an unexpected temperature condition on the spacecraft.
The rover’s launch was successful, with Perseverance on the right path to Mars. But shortly after liftoff, telemetry indicated the rover entered a “safe mode” due to unexpectedly cold temperatures, NASA officials said.
“Data indicate the spacecraft had entered a state known as safe mode, likely because a part of the spacecraft was a little colder than expected while Mars 2020 was in Earth’s shadow,” NASA officials said in a statement. “All temperatures are now nominal and the spacecraft is out of Earth’s shadow.”
“Safe mode” is a protective state for spacecraft and rovers in which they shut down non-essential systems until receiving new commands from Earth.
“An interplanetary launch is fast-paced and dynamic, so a spacecraft is designed to put itself in safe mode if its onboard computer perceives conditions are not within its preset parameters,” NASA officials wrote in the statement. “Right now, the Mars 2020 mission is completing a full health assessment on the spacecraft and is working to return the spacecraft to a nominal configuration for its journey to Mars.”
Mars rover Perseverance mission in good health
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science missions, said he’s thrilled with the launch.
“I’m relieved. It’s a space mission now,” Zurbuchen said. The communications glitch is something the rover team is working on, but that’s part of the job when it comes to space missions, he added.
Here’s some more amazing launch photos.
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Matt Wallace, NASA’s deputy project manager for Perseverance, said Perseverance may have experienced a “temperature transient” event after launch that could have placed its computer in a protective safe mode, but more time is needed to confirm the telemetry. It should take about an hour to wrap that up, he said.
In the meantime, Perseverance has now begun a 6.5-month cruise to Mars. This concludes on launch coverage, but updates will be posted as news on Perseverance is available throughout the mission.
Thanks for joining us!
NASA gets Perseverance rover telemetry
NASA’s post-launch press conference for the Perseverance rover is under way.
Matt Wallace, NASA’s deputy project manager for Perseverance, reports that the Deep Space Network has established a telemetry lock with the rover. As of 11:50 a.m. EDT (1550 GMT), it should take about 30 to 60 minutes to verify the rover’s condition, but all signs point to good health, Wallace said.
Perseverance’s signal is extremely strong, and a bit overwhelming for the Deep Space Network’s sensitive receiver. A similar issue occurred after the Curiosity rover launch in 2011, he said. The signal is being modulated so the DSN can process it, he added.
Shortly after signal acquisition, NASA teams had an issue with matching signal strengths between the spacecraft and ground stations. However, this is seen as a temporary issue and one that is not only easily solvable, but that has been solved before, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared on Twitter.
“We had a good launch this morning, we’re right on course for Mars and signal from @NASAPersevere is strong. We are working to configure the ground stations to match the strength of the spacecraft signal. This scenario is one we’ve worked through in the past with other missions,” Bridenstine tweeted.
Read our launch wrap details all of the amazing moments from this missionhere.
We had a good launch this morning, we’re right on course for Mars and signal from @NASAPersevere is strong. We are working to configure the ground stations to match the strength of the spacecraft signal. This scenario is one we’ve worked through in the past with other missions.July 30, 2020
I am healthy and on my way to Mars, but may be too loud for the antennas on Earth while I’m so close. Ground stations are working to match my signal strength so that I can communicate clearly with my team. https://t.co/vLaRxcKomRJuly 30, 2020
Following successful spacecraft separation, NASA has reported that the mission “phoned home.”
The mission has officially made contact with ground controllers back on Earth. These signals were received by ground controllers through a NASA tracking station located in Canberra, Australia.
Read our launch wrap details all of the amazing moments from this mission here.
Mars 2020 separation
Huzzah! NASA’s Mars 2020 spacecraft, which contains the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, has officially deployed from the Centaur upper stage as scheduled. In about 20 minutes, we can expect the first signals coming from that spacecraft to reach ground controllers on Earth at NASA.
ULA’s Atlas V rocket has successfully completed an “escape burn,” or its second and final engine firing, as scheduled. This burn is what pushes the vehicle out and towards the Red Planet, where it is set to arrive Feb. 18, 2021, nearly seven months from now.
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is officially on its way to Mars, with a successful launch earlier this morning atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Check out this sweet photo of the mission making its way in space!
Atlas V’s Common Core Booster, the first stage of the Atlas 5 rocket separates from Centaur, the upper stage of Atlas V, as scheduled.
Payload fairing separation
PLF (Payload Fairing Separation): The Atlas V rocket’s payload fairing, or nose cone, which was made in Switzerland by Ruag Space and helped to protect the Atlas V rocket during launch, has separated from the vehicle as scheduled.
SRB (Solid Rocket Booster) jettison: The solid rocket booster helping Atlas V launch the Mars rover Perseverance has separated from the booster as planned.
The rover successfully launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The car-sized rover is officially on its way to Jezero Crater on Mars, where it is set to arrive in about seven months on Feb. 18, 2021.
We are officially one hour out from today’s launch! The mission is still set to liftoff at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT) with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
It is officially two hours until NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover lifts off (at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT)) atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The weather looks good and “Percy” is poised for Mars!
The clock is ticking down toward the launch of NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance. Here’s how you can watch the launch live at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
NASA’s webcast begins at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT). The United Launch Alliance will begin its countdown coverage at 12:15 a.m. EDT (0415 GMT) with live updates appearing here.
Spacesuit tech and a Mars microphone on Perseverance
NASA is having some fun with less than a day remaining until the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launches toward the Red Planet. In the photo above, you can see NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (right) and United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno appear to “balance” the Atlas V carrying Perseverance at Space Launch Complex 41 of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
NASA has even started streaming live views from the launch pad ahead of tomorrow’s live launch webcast, which will begin at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT). Check it out here.
But there’s some serious science still at work for the rover mission.
Did you know there are microphones on Perseverance to bring us the sounds of Mars? You can read all about here from Space.com contributor Elizabeth Howell.
We caught up with Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, the Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, one day before NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover takes off for the Red Planet.
In the video chat (check it out above!) he detailed the incredibly innovative tools that Perseverence, nicknamed “Percy,” will carry to Mars and what makes the rover and mission so unique and important. He also highlighted some of his favorite aspects of the mission, which will collect and cache samples that researchers hope will be carried to Earth with a future mission.
One day from launch
We are less than 24 hours away from the launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover! The rover will scour Mars for signs of ancient, microbial life.
Tomorrow at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT), Percy will begin its journey to the Red Planet aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket which will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
It’s time to get excited and prepare yourself to watch and enjoy the historic launch.
Today, you can hear NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s thoughts about the Mars-bound mission in a live-streamed video on NASA Live, which will begin at noon EST (1600 GMT.)
Also today, beginning at the same time, you can join Space.com for our “Summer of Mars” webinar, in which you’ll be able to connect with the Space.com community to discuss and learn about Perseverance, Mars, the search for life and so much more.
Go here for up-to-date information on how to watch the launch tomorrow live.
Mars rover Perseverance ‘go’ for launch
Perseverance, formerly known as the Mars 2020 rover, passed its launch readiness review, NASA officials announced today (July 27.) This was the last major hurdle before the rover is launched on Thursday (July 30) and so, with a pretty good weather forecast and this major obstacle behind it, the mission is making serious progress towards the Red Planet.
This latest-generation planetary explorer comes from a long line of well-traveled bots with some big upgrades over its older sibling that should allow scientists to see, touch and — for the first time ever — hear Mars in new ways.
From the lab to your inbox. Get the latest science stories from CNET every week.
Martian audio-visual club
An assortment of Mars rovers and orbiters have sent myriad views of the red planet home, but we’ve yet to actually open a microphone there to capture the sounds of our neighboring planet. Perseverance aims to finally change this by carrying a pair of mics that will pick up the audio of landing on the planet, as well as the ambient noise of another world and the whirring din of a rover at work.
“Hearing how the mast swivels, the wheels turn, or hearing how other instruments sound can also be an important engineering diagnostic tool,” said Greg Delory, the CEO and co-founder of space hardware company Heliospace. He’s an adviser to Perseverance’s SuperCam microphone team.
SuperCam is the rover’s new science instrument that blasts rock and other materials with a laser while its microphone records the subtle sounds made by different types of rock as they get zapped. The SuperCam mic will also be able to pick up the Martian wind and other sounds from the rover’s environment.
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How NASA’s new Perseverance Mars rover compares with…
The other on-board mic is part of the entry, descent and landing system that includes full-color cameras to capture the whole thrilling ride down to the surface.
All together, Perseverance is loaded with 23 cameras, most of them color devices. It will be capable of capturing HD video and stereo 3D panoramas and of zooming in on a target the size of a house fly from over 100 yards (91 meters) away.
Save it for later
A key part of Perseverance’s mission is to collect rock and gas samples from the Martian surface that will then be secured for possible later retrieval by a future mission.
A significant portion of the rover’s belly is taken up by instruments for collecting and analyzing Martian geology.
“I can’t wait for the time that these unique samples will one day return to Earth and be available for study by scientists around the world,” planetary scientist Caroline Smith from the UK Natural History Museum said in a statement. Smith is working with NASA and the European Space Agency to plan how the samples will be curated upon their delivery to Earth.
The sample return mission is part of one of the larger goals for Perseverance — looking for evidence of past life on Mars. Jezero Crater, where the rover will land, is thought to have once been home to a large body of water the size of Lake Tahoe, making it a prime spot for life in the distant past.
A flying sidekick
Perseverance will be fully grounded on Mars, but it’s carrying something new and exciting: the first helicopter to ply the thin atmosphere of our neighboring planet.
Dubbed Ingenuity, the tiny chopper is stowed in the belly of the rover, to be expelled onto the surface for some flight tests. This should be very interesting since we’ve never flown on another planet and the atmosphere of Mars is very different from that of Earth.
Put another way, don’t expect too much from this little space drone. But if it works, it could mean big ups (sorry) for how we explore other worlds in the future.
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How NASA’s Mars helicopter could change the future of…
Prepping for Elon and other human visitors
One of the stated goals of the Perseverance mission is to make key advances that will support the future arrival of actual people to become the first (or at least the most recent) Martians.
The rover is equipped with experiments like Moxie, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, which will test a way to pull oxygen out of literal Martian thin air. It will also use instruments to look at how the ubiquitous dust in that air could impact human life support systems and other key technologies.
Still other experiments will look for subsurface water, study the Martian atmosphere, climate and weather, and assess their impact on potential human explorers.
Fancy new wheels and a stronger arm
Engineers took some lessons learned from Curiosity and the punishment delivered to it by sharp, pointy Martian rocks and applied them to beefing up the wheels on Perseverance. They’re narrower, but have a bigger diameter and are made out of thicker aluminum. This, and all its new tools, make Perseverance heavier than its older sibling.
Wielding all those tools also requires a larger “hand” or turret on the end of its robotic arm. The arm extends 7 feet (2 meters), ending in the rotating 99-pound (45-kilogram) turret holding a scientific camera, chemical analyzers and rock drill. It’s pretty much the ultimate power glove.
NASA Perseverance rover ready to explore the wilds of Mars
This upcoming Sunday (Aug. 2, 2020) NASA will attempt its first ocean splashdown in nearly 45 years with SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. This still from a NASA video shows an Orion spacecraft about splashing down after visiting an asteroid parked in orbit around the moon during the Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization mission.
Just over 45 years since the last American astronaut splashed down in the ocean, NASA and its partner SpaceX are set to land astronauts in the sea again on Aug. 2.
The agency announced last week that SpaceX’s Demo-2 commercial crew mission, carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, is set to return to Earth, splashing down in the ocean near Florida in one of seven designated landing sites. The mission is expected to land at 2:42 p.m. EDT (1842 GMT), as long as the weather and technical systems co-operate, NASA said in a statement.
Coverage will be streaming on NASA Television, with the astronauts landing in one of these locations: off the coasts of Pensacola, Tampa, Tallahassee, Panama City, Cape Canaveral, Daytona or Jacksonville, NASA said in the same statement. The return time for the astronauts will take between six and 30 hours, depending on the exact undocking and splashdown zones chosen. For now, NASA and SpaceX expect to undock Crew Dragon from the International Space Station at 7:34 p.m. EDT (2334 GMT) on Aug. 1.
The Demo-2splashdown will be a historic moment. For one thing, it will be a “back to the future” moment: the last time astronauts made an ocean landing was on July 24, 1975 to complete the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Demo-2 landing will also complete the first-ever commercial crew test mission and prepare NASA for operational flights with SpaceX; the next launch is set for September with a full crew of four astronauts.
The splashdown will usher in a new era for NASA, which finally (after more than a decade of work) has one version of replacement commercial crew spacecraft ready to launch American astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX and another partner, Boeing, are expected to largely replace the Soyuz spacecraft NASA astronauts have been using in the years since the agency’s space shuttle program stopped flights in 2011 to access the space station.
We won’t know the exact location for splashdown until roughly two days before landing, NASA added in a fact sheet, and the agreed-upon area will be confirmed at 6 hours and again at 2.5 hours before undocking. If conditions are “no go” or marginal at the landing site, undocking will likely go ahead anyway. NASA and SpaceX will continue to monitor as the astronauts get closer to Earth, since weather conditions can change quickly and they would rather preserve the option of splashing down if possible.
If conditions ultimately aren’t conducive for a landing, the crew has the option to “wave off” the landing for 24 to 48 hours and remain in space aboard Crew Ddragon Endeavour before making a second attempt.
“Splashdown locations are selected using defined priorities, starting with selecting a station departure date and time with the maximum number of return opportunities in geographically diverse locations to protect for weather changes,” the agency said in the fact sheet. “Teams also prioritize locations which require the shortest amount of time between undocking and splashdown based on orbital mechanics, and splashdown opportunities that occur in daylight hours.”
Recovery parameters will depend on factors such as wind speed (no greater than 15 feet, or 4.5 meters, per second), an ocean wave slope of no more than seven degrees, rain, lightning (which cannot happen within 10 miles, or 16 km), the availability of the recovery helicopters that may pick up the astronauts (the helicopters will be tested prior to deployment), the vessel’s pitch and roll (which should be no greater than four degrees), the visible ceiling (no less than 500 feet, or 152 meters) and overall visibility (no less than half a mile, or 0.8 km, assuming daylight operations.)
Once the Crew Dragon Endeavour separates from the space station, it will complete two tiny engine burns to safely move away from the station. Next, Endeavour will perform four longer departure burns that will set it on a path for Earth. A few hours later, assuming splashdown conditions look good, Endeavour will complete a six-minute “departure phasing burn” to put it in the correct orbit for its splashdown area.
Next, Endeavour will let go of its trunk, which holds the spacecraft’s solar arrays and other equipment, to clear its heat shield for re-entry. Endeavour then will perform a “deorbit burn” and begin its plunge into Earth’s atmosphere, hitting the air at a speed of 17,500 mph (28,000 km/h). A communications blackout will last for six minutes as the heat shield reaches temperatures of 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,900 degrees Celsius).
Once out of the worst of re-entry, Endeavour will pop two drogue parachutes at 18,000 feet (about 5.5 km) in altitude, slowing its drop from 350 mph to 119 mph (560 km/h to 191 km/h). Three main parachutes will deploy when Endeavour is roughly 6,000 feet (1.8 km) above the ground.
Next will be splashdown. The crew will be picked up by one of two recovery ships, either the Go Searcher or the Go Navigator. Each ship will have more than 40 personnel from NASA and SpaceX on board, including personnel such as water recovery experts, medical professionals, spacecraft engineers and other folks specialized in recovery operations.
The main recovery ship will send out two smaller ships with SpaceX personnel on board. One boat will make sure the capsule isn’t leaking (the NASA Mercury Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft did accidentally sink in 1961 and was only recovered in 1999.) The boat will also make sure there are no propellant vapors that can put the crew in danger. The second boat will recover the parachutes that should, at this point, be floating freely from Endeavour in the water.
Once that’s all done, the main recovery vessel will move towards Endeavour and hoist the spacecraft (with the crew still inside) onto the main deck. Behnken and Hurley will be helped by medical professionals immediately after arrival, both for routine medical checks and to exit their spacecraft. Should all go to plan, the crew should be back on the recovery ship within 45 to 60 minutes from splashdown.
After finishing their medical checks, Hurley and Behnken will be brought to shore — either by helicopter (for six of the seven recovery areas) or by recovery ship (if the crew lands near Cape Canaveral.) It will take between 10 minutes and 80 minutes to get back on dry land, after which the crew will board a NASA plane for their return to their home base in Houston. It will take them several weeks at the least to recover from being in space, which is typical of returning crews who stay in microgravity for months at a time.
Endeavour will take a separate path, ending up in Florida for SpaceX inspection and processing. Certifying the spacecraft for operational missions will take about six weeks, after which the next mission (Crew 1) will be authorized for launch in September.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — With eight successful Mars landings, NASA is upping the ante with its newest rover.
The spacecraft Perseverance — set for liftoff this week — is NASA’s brawniest and brainiest Martian rover yet.
It sports the latest landing tech, plus the most cameras and microphones ever assembled to capture the sights and sounds of Mars. Its super-sanitized sample return tubes — for rocks that could hold evidence of past Martian life — are the cleanest items ever bound for space. A helicopter is even tagging along for an otherworldly test flight.
This summer’s third and final mission to Mars — after the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter and China’s Quest for Heavenly Truth orbiter-rover combo — begins with a launch scheduled for Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral. Like the other spacecraft, Perseverance should reach the red planet next February following a journey spanning seven months and more than 300 million miles (480 million kilometers).
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine doesn’t see it as a competition. “But certainly we welcome more explorers to deliver more science than ever before,” he said following a launch review Monday, “and we look forward to seeing what it is that they’re able to discover.”
Here’s a peek at Perseverance:
PERSEVERANCE VS. CURIOSITY:
The six-wheeled, car-sized Perseverance is a copycat of NASA’s Curiosity rover, prowling Mars since 2012, but with more upgrades and bulk. Its 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm has a stronger grip and bigger drill for collecting rock samples, and it’s packed with 23 cameras, most of them in color, plus two more on Ingenuity, the hitchhiking helicopter. The cameras will provide the first glimpse of a parachute billowing open at Mars, with two microphones letting Earthlings eavesdrop for the first time. Once home to a river delta and lake, Jezero Crater is NASA’s riskiest Martian landing site yet because of boulders and cliffs, hopefully avoided by the spacecraft’s self-navigating systems. Perseverance has more self-driving capability, too, so it can cover more ground than Curiosity. The enhancements make for a higher mission price tag: nearly $3 billion.
Perseverance will drill into rocks most likely to hold signs of ancient life and stash the collection on the ground to await a future rover. Forty-three sample tubes are on board this rover, each one meticulously scrubbed and baked to remove Earthly microbes. NASA wants to avoid introducing organic molecules from Earth to the returning Martian samples. Each tube can hold one-half ounce (15 grams) of core samples, and the goal is to gather about a pound (0.5 kilogram) altogether for return to Earth. NASA hopes to launch the pickup mission in 2026 and get the samples back on Earth by 2031 — at the soonest.
The 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter, Ingenuity, will travel to Mars clutching the rover’s belly and, a few months after touchdown, attempt to fly solo. Once dropping onto the Martian surface, Ingenuity will start out like a baby bird, rising 10 feet (3 meters) into the planet’s extremely thin atmosphere and flying forward up to 6 feet (2 meters). With each attempt, it will try to go a little higher and farther. “It really is like the Wright brothers’ moment,” said project manager MiMi Aung. She has one month to squeeze in as many helicopter hops as possible before the rover moves on to more pressing geologic work. The future could see next-generation helicopters scouting out distant Martian territory for astronauts or even robots.
Besides the helicopter, Perseverance carries other experiments that could directly benefit astronauts at Mars. An instrument the size of a car battery will covert atmospheric carbon dioxide into oxygen, an essential ingredient for rocket propellant and breathing systems. Another instrument, zapping rocks with lasers to identify organic molecules and minerals, carries samples of spacesuit material. NASA wants to see how the fabrics withstand the harsh Martian environment. It will be the 2030s at best, according to NASA, before astronauts venture to Mars.
A couple Martian meteorites are finally headed home, or at least slivers of them to be used as calibration targets by laser-shooting instruments aboard Perseverance. Other cool stowaways: silicon chips bearing the names of nearly 11 million people who signed up, as well as a small plate showing Earth and Mars on opposite sides of the sun with the message “explore as one” in Morse code tucked into the solar rays. There’s also a plaque paying tribute to medical workers on the pandemic’s front lines. The coronavirus is preventing hundreds of scientists and other team members from traveling to Cape Canaveral for the launch.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured a new, exceptionally crisp picture of the ringed gas giant in early July, and the space agency posted the image of the planet on Thursday.
“Hubble’s sharp view resolves the finely etched concentric ring structure,” wrote NASA, noting the rings are composed of chunks of ice ” ranging from tiny grains to giant boulders.”
Hubble orbits about 340 miles above Earth, and the telescope captured this detailed view of Saturn while the planet orbited 839 million miles from Earth.
Sharp images of the gas giant allow planetary scientists to observe the planet’s changing atmosphere. For example, NASA researchers spotted a “slight reddish haze” over Saturn’s north polar region, possibly indicating a changing atmosphere or heating by the sun.
“It’s amazing that even over a few years, we’re seeing seasonal changes on Saturn,” Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.
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The launch of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover and Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has been delayed two days to July 22 after an issue with ground support equipment at the Kennedy Space Center held up encapsulation of the spacecraft inside the payload fairing of its Atlas 5 rocket.
NASA said officials set a new target launch date for the Mars 2020 mission of July 22 “due to a processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft.”
There is a two-hour launch window July 22 opening at 9:35 a.m. EDT (1335 GMT). NASA says the mission has until Aug. 11 to launch this year and still reach Mars on a direct seven-month journey, but officials are discussing extending the launch period a few additional days.
“Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF),” NASA said in a brief statement Wednesday.
NASA said the spacecraft and launch vehicle are healthy, and encapsulation of the rover is being completed this week inside the PHSF, a climate-controlled clean room where NASA has prepared numerous interplanetary missions for launch.
Mary MacLaughlin, a NASA spokesperson, said Wednesday that the Perseverance rover and launch shroud will be mounted on top of their United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket Saturday inside ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility near the southern perimeter of pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That will kick off a series of connectivity and interface tests to ensure good data links between the Atlas 5 and the Mars 2020 spacecraft.
ULA teams completed a countdown rehearsal on the Atlas 5 rocket — without its Mars-bound payload — Monday at Cape Canaveral. The launch team loaded kerosene, liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants into the Atlas first stage and the Centaur upper stage, and halted the simulated countdown just before ignition of the Atlas 5’s RD-180 main engine.
ULA returned the rocket to the VIF from pad 41 Wednesday to ready the launcher for the arrival of the Perseverance rover.
In the final weeks before launch, ground crews will install the Perseverance rover’s plutonium-fueled power source through a port in the side of the Atlas 5’s payload fairing.
The Mars rover — about the size of a small car — will be powered by the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG, throughout its mission.
Built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Perseverance was enclosed within its entry, descent and landing capsule in recent weeks at the Kennedy Space Center. The 1.6-foot-tall (49-centimeter) Ingenuity helicopter, set to become the first aerial vehicle of its type to fly in the atmosphere of another planet, is attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover for the trip to the Martian surface.
Perseverance and Ingenuity are mounted to a rocket-powered descent stage that will set the rover on the Martian surface using a tether. Landing is scheduled for Feb. 18, 2021, and mission managers say the Perseverance rover will attempt the most precise touchdown ever on Mars.
Perseverance carries a cluster of scientific instruments and 25 cameras to explore a region of Mars called Jezero crater, which is home to an ancient dried-up river delta.
The rover will also collect rock core samples for eventual return to Earth on a future mission. Scientists will search for the signatures of ancient life in the rock specimens that come back to Earth.
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The small craft will seek to prove that powered, controlled flight is possible on another planet. But just getting it onto the surface of Mars will take a whole lot of ingenuity.
Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will travel with the Perseverance rover through 314
million miles (505 million kilometers) of interplanetary space to get to Mars.
But for the team working on the first experimental flight test on
another planet, engineering the final 5 inches (13 centimeters) of the journey has
been among the most challenging of all. To safely navigate those 5 inches – the
distance Ingenuity will travel from where it’s stowed on the rover to the
surface of Mars – they came up with the ingenious Mars Helicopter
“Ingenuity is unlike any other helicopter ever built
because powered controlled flight at Mars is unlike anything ever
attempted,” said MiMi Aung, project manager of the Mars Helicopter at
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “And then we had
to figure out how to hitch a ride and safely get deployed from the Mars 2020
Ingenuity’s square fuselage (which houses computers,
cameras, batteries and the like) is about the size of a softball (7.9 by 6.3 by
5.5 inches, or 20 by 16 by 14 centimeters). But if you look outside the box, you’ll
find plenty of other important stuff – including an antenna, solar panel,
landing legs and two rotors measuring 4 feet (1.2 meters) across – that makes
stowing and deploying the helicopter a challenge. The entire package tips the
scales at about 4 pounds (2 kilograms).
“On a Mars rover mission, the addition of even one
new washer is usually worthy of debate,” said Chris Salvo, the helicopter interface
lead of the Mars 2020 mission at JPL. “The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is a
large, fragile, unique assemblage of hardware that is dissimilar to anything
NASA has ever accommodated on a planetary mission.”
Mission engineers considered every available parking
space on the rover chassis for their unusual addition, including the robotic
arm. They eventually landed on Perseverance’s belly, which on a relatively flat
stretch of Red Planet surface should offer about 26 inches (67 centimeters) of ground
clearance. While that may seem like a lot of room (an Earthly SUV provides about
a third of that), the delivery system reduces that distance by about 2 inches (6
centimeters). Ingenuity is about 19 inches (49 centimeters) tall. This is where
the 5-inch journey comes in.
“That is not a lot of room to play with,” said
Salvo, “but we found if you attach the helicopter horizontally, there is
enough to get the job done.”
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter is traveling to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover and must safely detach to begin the first attempt at powered flight on another planet. Tests done at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin Space show the sequence of events that will bring the helicopter down to the Martian surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech and Lockheed Martin Space
How the Job Is Done
will be deployed about two months after Perseverance lands on Feb. 18, 2021. During
early surface operations, both the rover and helicopter teams will be on the
lookout for potential airfields – a 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) patch of Martian
real estate that is comparatively flat, level, obstruction-free and viewable by
Perseverance when the rover is parked about a football field away.
the 60th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, Perseverance will drop
the Mars Helicopter Delivery System’s graphite composite debris shield that protected
the helicopter during landing. Then it will drive into the center of the chosen
airfield. About six days later, after the helicopter and rover teams are
satisfied everything is go, they’ll command Mars Helicopter Delivery System to
do its thing.
deployment process begins with the release of a locking mechanism that keeps
the helicopter in place. Then a cable-cutting pyrotechnic device fires,
allowing a spring-loaded arm that holds the helicopter to begin rotating Ingenuity
out of its horizontal position. Along the way, a small electric motor will pull
the arm until it latches, bringing the helicopter body completely vertical with
two of its spring-loaded landing legs deployed. Another pyrotechnic fires,
releasing the other legs.
all the while, the deployment system has to maintain electrical and data cable
connections between rover and helicopter until it’s ready to drop,” said
David Buecher, deployment system manager at Lockheed Martin Space in Denver,
which built the system. “While I have worked on my fair share of
space-based deployment systems, this one was on another level.”
goes well, mission controllers will command the delivery system to release, and
Ingenuity will cover those last 5 inches. Once a good drop is confirmed,
Perseverance will be commanded to drive away so the helicopter can begin recharging its batteries with
its solar panel. At that point, the 30-sol clock on Ingenuity’s flight test
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is an
experimental flight test of new technology. Future Mars missions could enlist
second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.
They could act as scouts for human crews, carry small payloads or investigate cliffs,
caves, deep craters and other unvisited or difficult-to-reach destinations. But
before any of that happens, a test vehicle has to prove it’s possible.
And before the test vehicle can do any of
that, it has to land safely on the surface of Mars.
Perseverance,” said Aung. “The Mars Helicopter Delivery System is an ingenious
gizmo and just one of the examples of how the Mars 2020 mission has worked
above and beyond the call to accommodate our test project. Along with it and the
helicopter, they had to incorporate an electronic base station and antenna
dedicated entirely to helicopter operations into the rover. Our teams had to
work closely together to make this complex system work. When Ingenuity flies,
it will be an achievement we can all share.”
About the Mars 2020 Mission
division of Caltech in Pasadena, JPL built and manages the helicopter for
Martin Space provided the Mars Helicopter Delivery System. NASA’s Launch
Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center, is responsible for launch
Perseverance is a robotic
scientist weighing about 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms). The rover’s
astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. It will
characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future
return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. No
matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its July 20-Aug. 11 launch
period, it will land at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance
rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as
a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with
returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human
presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis
lunar exploration plans.
For more information on
the Mars Helicopter, go to:
NASA’s next Mars rover is in the home stretch now.
The launch of NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, the life-hunting, sample-caching Red Planet explorer, is just a month away. The car-size robot is scheduled to lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during a window that runs from July 20 through Aug. 11.
Getting to this point has not been easy. Mission teams have had to prep the rover and rocket for liftoff while the coronavirus pandemic swirled around them, forcing the closure of many NASA facilities. But the space agency prioritized getting Perseverance to the pad on time (while protecting workers’ safety as well), given that Mars-mission launch windows open just once every 26 months.
“If we have to take Perseverance and put it back into storage for a period of two years, it could cost half a billion dollars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a news conference last Wednesday (June 17).
That would be on top of the $2.7 billion total price tag for Perseverance’s mission, which is called Mars 2020.
Whenever the six-wheeled rover lifts off during the coming window, it will land on Feb. 18, 2021, inside the Red Planet’s 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater. Jezero harbored a lake and river delta billions of years ago, and Perseverance will use its seven science instruments to characterize that potentially habitable ancient environment and look for evidence of long-dead Mars life, among other things.
No robot has hunted for signs of life on the Martian surface since NASA’s twin Viking landers, which touched down in the mid-1970s to look for extant organisms.
But, as the Vikings’ ambiguous results show, making a definitive detection of alien life is a tall order for a lonely robot on a faraway world. So, Perseverance will also collect and cache several dozen pristine samples, which will be brought to Earth by a joint NASA/European Space Agency effort in 2031, if current plans hold.
“On the Perseverance side, we see it as our job to identify potential biosignatures — things that are worthy of additional study here on Earth, with the full arsenal of analytical capabilities that we have here in our own laboratories,” Mars 2020 deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said during Wednesday’s news conference. “I think that’s how we’re going to approach that question of the surface of Mars.”
Perseverance will also test out tech for future exploration efforts. For example, one of the rover’s instruments will generate oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, which is thin and dominated by carbon dioxide. Such tech could help human pioneers live and work on the Red Planet someday, NASA officials have said.
The Mars 2020 mission also features a tiny helicopter named Ingenuity, which will travel to the Red Planet on Perseverance’s belly. Ingenuity will make a few short test flights in the Martian sky, potentially paving the way for future rotorcraft that could serve as rover scouts and/or gather lots of data on their own.
“Getting it to Mars, getting it safely off the vehicle — we’re going to learn a lot,” Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace said of Ingenuity. “We are not looking for an extensive and ambitious return from this technology; we’re looking to learn those first few things that we need to learn.”
The nuclear-powered Perseverance is also outfitted with 23 cameras and two microphones. If all goes according to plan, the mission will capture high-definition video of Perseverance’s dramatic sky-crane landing and record the sounds of the Martian surface. Both types of data collection would be unprecedented.
“Perseverance is the most sophisticated mission we’ve ever sent to the Red Planet’s surface,” said Lori Glaze, the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
Two other NASA robots are active on the Martian surface at the moment: the InSight Mars lander, which has been monitoring marsquakes since its November 2018 touchdown, and the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater since August 2012.
Curiosity is Perseverance’s forebear in multiple ways. Perseverance’s chassis is based heavily on that of the older rover, which also pioneered the sky-crane landing strategy that Mars 2020 will employ. And Curiosity has determined that at least some parts of Mars were capable of supporting Earth-like life in the ancient past, paving the way for Perseverance to take the next step and hunt for signs of native Martian organisms.