NASA has successfully launched its Mars Perseverance Rover and is now on its way to the Red Planet, where it will look for signs of extraterrestrial life.
It flew from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 7:50 a.m.CET (12:50 a.m.CET) on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Endurance, which is the same size as a large car and has six wheels, is also accompanied by an autonomous 1.8 kg helicopter called Ingenuity, which will examine the Martian atmosphere.
The rover is scheduled to land on February 18, 2021, at the foot of a 250-meter-deep crater called Jezero, a former lake in which water lay 3.5 billion years ago.
The first launch date was July 17 and was postponed three times for various reasons before the agency decided today as the ideal starting point.
In ideal weather conditions, the start went smoothly.
"The public wants the US and our international partners to do amazing things, and we've done amazing things in the past, in the most difficult times," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine shortly before the launch.
& # 39; It is no different. We can only go to Mars once every 26 months when the planets are literally aligned and. If we missed that launch window, it would cost us half a billion dollars to store this vehicle for the next two years. & # 39;
One hour after launch, the spacecraft successfully separated from the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas 5 rocket with perseverance and ingenuity.
Pictured here is the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket launching NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover aboard Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
In the picture exactly at the moment when the Atlas rocket was fired on time from Cape Canaveral. It will now go through space and arrive on Mars in February
Take off! The rocket launched on time at 7:50 a.m. local time because the sky was clear and there were no weather problems
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover can examine, analyze, and even collect rock and soil samples from the Red Planet to search for signs of ancient life. It also has a weather station, surface radar and panoramic camera on board
NASA has been preparing for this mission for years and has looked grim for the American space agency in recent months.
The name of the mission was originally simply Mars 2020, but was later renamed Perseverance.
This title is becoming more and more appropriate and has gained additional significance in the past few months, according to NASA officials, according to whom COVID-19 posed new hurdles.
The coronavirus pandemic meant that NASA scientists had to work in smaller teams, some of whom worked from home, to meet the strict deadline for the launch window.
The original day was July 17, but due to problems with the floor equipment of a broken crane, the team moved it to July 20 and then again to July 22.
The July 30 advance was "due to delays in the processing of launch vehicles in preparation for the deployment of spacecraft comrades" after a liquid oxygen sensor problem occurred during a launch rehearsal, NASA said.
Had today's launch been pushed back, NASA would only have had two weeks before Mars and Earth were no longer aligned to make the mission possible, which means the launch would have been postponed to 2022.
"This is the ninth time we have landed on Mars, so we have experience with it," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine yesterday.
"This is the first time in history that we go on an explicit mission to Mars to find life in another world – the old life on Mars."
One hour after launch, the spacecraft successfully separated from the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas 5 rocket with perseverance and ingenuity
The view from the ground of Cape Canaveral as a NASA rocket with Perseverance takes off into space and obscures the early morning sun in Florida
The mission launch was successful and the ship is now on its way to Mars. The rover and helicopter on board will investigate the possibility of old Martian life and learn more about the atmosphere
NASA has sent its Perseverance Rover to Mars (a robot model is shown). The six-wheeled vehicle is currently in the Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida and is waiting for its 314 million-mile journey to the Red Planet
Pictured is the flight path of endurance. This illustration shows how the rover reaches the red planet, and each TCM is a trajectory correction maneuver in which NASA optimizes the trajectory to ensure that the mission is on track
The rover is seven feet tall, nine feet wide, weighs 2260 pounds, and draws on Curiosity's blueprint, but has been tailored to collect geological samples.
It is powered by a core battery consisting of 10.6 pounds of plutonium in a container about the size of a bucket.
The plutonium provides 2,000 watts of heat and lasts around 14 years.
Persistence will look for "biosignatures" of past microbial life and rock samples will be picked up by another mission in 2026.
The rover drills into the dusty surface and collects material in aseptic titanium tubes, which are placed in the belly of the vehicle. A total of 43 pipes have to be filled.
NASA plans to collect at least 20 samples from a variety of materials that can be returned to Earth for further analysis.
NASA has partnered with the European Space Agency for the follow-up mission, which would send two or more spacecraft in 2026.
"In 2026, we will launch a mission from Earth to Mars to collect these samples and return them to Earth," said Bridenstine.
"For the first time in history, we are conducting a Mars sample return mission."
A secondary goal of Perseverance is to investigate whether material found on Mars can be used to facilitate return missions.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine stands next to a replica of the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover during a press conference before launch
Only eight missions were able to descend to Mars, a feat known as "seven minutes of terror". If the rover can land successfully, it will drive to Jezero crater, which scientists speculate was a lake 3.5 billion years ago
This task is called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) and prepares for human exploration of Mars.
A MOXIE goal is to conduct an experiment to convert elements of the carbon dioxide-rich Martian atmosphere into rocket fuel.
NASA is also looking ahead to future crew missions to Mars and will use Perseverance's built-in laboratory features to test whether Mars' natural resources can be used to produce breathable oxygen.
As soon as the first pieces of Mars land on Earth, which is expected to happen in 2031, the scientists will cut the plates into thin layers of rock to determine whether individual microbial cells are hidden in the samples.
Endurance is also equipped with other instruments, including advanced cameras, radar and a laser.
The rover will use its powerful laser called SuperCam at the top of its mast to fire high-energy impulses that are able to vaporize stones up to 20 feet away.
The laser beam heats the target to 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to convert the solid rock into plasma, which can be imaged by a camera for further analysis.
This tool helps researchers identify minerals that are out of range of the rover's robotic arm or in areas that are too steep for the rover.
Although the rover is very similar in design to Curiosity, it has a new range of sensors and devices, including microphones for the first time.
These record how the entrance, descent and landing sound, and show sounds on the surface of Mars.
NASA has sent a series of orbits to Mars to find Perseverance's target – the 28-mile Jezero crater (image)
The coveted rover doesn't make the trip alone – it is accompanied by a helicopter called Ingenuity. NASA compares this mission "to the Wright Brothers moment" because it will be the first time in history that an aircraft has flown to another world
History of NASA's landing on Mars
The surface of the Red Planet has been visited by eight NASA spacecraft, and Perseverance – the ninth – will be the first to collect samples to bring them back to Earth.
NASA says the mission will also demonstrate key technologies to prepare for future robot and human exploration – possibly within a decade.
The first countries to arrive on the Red Planet were Viking 1 and Viking 2, which landed in 1976 to search for signs of life.
Although the technologies provided new insights into the Martian surface, they could not reveal any evidence of life.
Sojourner, NASA's first Mars rover, landed in 1997.
The agency has since broadcast three more – Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.
NASA has also successfully sent three countries – Pathfinder, Phoenix, InSight.
One of the most complex maneuvers on Perseverance's journey will be what mission engineers call the "seven minutes of terror".
This is the case when the robot is exposed to extreme heat and speed as it descends through the Martian atmosphere before landing.
A number of supersonic parachutes will be deployed before mini-rocket engines are fired to slow the approach and hopefully land gently on the surface of the planet.
It is the last Earth to Mars launch in a busy month in July after the probes sent by the United Arab Emirates and China.
The recent flood of launches to Mars is due to the fact that astronomers want to take advantage of a rare orbit orbit alignment that makes the red planet relatively close and accessible for a few weeks.
The United States has plans to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s as part of a program that involves returning to the moon as a test platform for human missions before the more ambitious crewed trip to Mars.
Matt Wallace, deputy project manager for the Mars 2020 mission at JPL, said: "We are doing transformative science."
"Really, for the first time we're looking for signs of life on another planet and for the first time we're going to collect samples that we hope will be part of the first sample return from another planet."
The Jezero crater was identified as an ideal landing site based on astronomers' insights into its past.
The massive crater is said to have flowed with water and is littered with carbonates and hydrated silica.
Carbonates in the inner rim of the crater have been found to survive billions of years in fossils on Earth, and hydrated silica has been discovered in the delta, which is known for its ability to maintain biosignatures.
NASA sends the Ingenuity helicopter along along the Perseverance and has the task of examining the Martian atmosphere.
The helicopter flies at an altitude that resembles 100,000 feet on Earth, allowing it to collect geological data in areas where the rover cannot travel.
This extraordinary height is made possible by the thin atmosphere on Mars, which is only 1/1000 as thick as that of Earth.
The two blade stages rotate in opposite directions at up to 2,400 rpm.
This is the first time that a land helicopter is not only flying at such heights, but is also flying on another planet for the first time.
"Since the Wright brothers first went up to the sky on December 17, 1903 in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, maiden flights have been important milestones in the life of any vehicle designed for air travel," said a NASA statement.
At the press conference on Wednesday, Bridenstine said: "Ingenuity will change our outlook on world exploration in the future."
THREE MISSIONS TO MARS within 10 days
Three major missions are planned for Mars in just 10 days this month – the UAE's Hope Orbiter, China's Tianwen-1 vehicle and NASA's Perseverance Rover.
The countries use a time in which Earth and Mars are cheap for a relatively short trip.
July 20: Hope (UAE)
The 1,350 kg vehicle (pictured) will complete an orbit for a total of one Martian year every 55 hours – 687 Earth days
– The £ 2,970 probe was built entirely in the Emirates, launched from Japan and will take seven months to reach the Red Planet.
– If the orbiter arrives there in February 2021, it will remain in orbit for an entire Martian year – 687 days.
– Hope does not land on the surface of Mars, but measures the atmosphere of the Red Planet.
– Hope will help answer important questions about the Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over a period of one year – called "Sol".
– Three instruments mounted on the probe provide a picture of the Martian atmosphere all year round, and all data collected is made generally available.
– This includes an infrared spectrometer to measure the lower atmosphere and temperature, a high-resolution imager to examine the ozone and another to examine the hydrogen and oxygen content up to 27,000 miles from the surface.
July 23: Tianwen-1
The Chinese space agency presented the nation's first Mars rover, Tianwen-1 (pictured), at a major ceremony earlier this month. The rover is just over two meters high
– This robotic spacecraft consists of an orbiter (stationed in the atmosphere), a lander (stationary on the planet's surface) and a rover (traveling on the surface).
– The vehicle is just over 1.85 m high and weighs 240 kg.
– It will examine the composition, species, geological structure and meteorological environment of the Martian surface.
– The solar powered machine is designed for three months of Mars, around 92 Earth days, on Mars.
– It includes a geological camera, a multispectral camera, an underground detection radar, a surface composition detector, a surface magnetic field detector and a weather detector.
– A poem about the stars and planets, written over 2000 years ago, was the inspiration for the name of China's first exploration mission to Mars.
– The poem called Tianwen (天 问) was written by ancient Chinese writers and politicians Qu Yuan (339-278 BC), who lived in the state of Chu (770-223 BC).
July 30: perseverance
NASA's Mars 2020 rover will collect rock and soil samples from the red planet, place them in tubes, and leave them on the ground for a future mission to bring them back to Earth.
– At 1,025 kg, NASA's Perseverance Rover is the heaviest payload that has ever existed on the Red Planet.
The mission will search for signs of past microbial life on Mars and collect rock and soil samples to eventually return to Earth.
– The Mars Perseverance Rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside in a "cache" on the surface of Mars.
– The rover drives an ultraviolet laser to determine which minerals and compounds are present in the soil based on how the light is scattered.
– The Mars 2020 rover, built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is now at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to make final preparations.
– It launches on July 30 and is scheduled to land on Mars in 12 months.
– It has a 1-year Mars mission (668 sols or 687 Earth days) and will land on Mars' Jezero crater in February 2021.
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