Launching a mission to Mars is easy. The problem is descending on this planet. That’s perseverance’s next big challenge, Nasa‘s successfully launched mission on Thursday.
Any ship arriving from Earth must drastically slow down, virtually without red help. It happens that this planet has a very fine and little dense atmosphere to stop any object that seeks to step on its soil.
No mission from the former Soviet Union and present-day Russia, nor from the European Space Agency, has been successful until now.
Nasa has six successful missions (Pathfinder, Opportunity, Spirit, Phoenix, Curiosity and InSight). Perseverance will use the same complex descent system from Curiosity, known as “seven minutes of terror“.
Before that, the mission will have to travel the 497 million kilometres that separate Earth from Mars. It will arrive on February 18 at a speed of 19 thousand kilometres per hour. A series of procedures will seek to brake to zero and to land on the Jezero crater, which was an ancient Martian lake with a delta.
That cruise trip to the red planet is guided by software developed by Argentine engineer Miguel San Martin who has been working at Nasa for years.
Step by Step
When the signal that the ship began its descent reaches Earth, the mission will have already done so (or it will have failed). This is because the communication between the two planets takes 15 minutes, while the landing takes seven minutes.
- The Mars entry capsule will protect the rover from the heat generated by rubbing against the atmosphere.
- Within two minutes a parachute will open to reduce the speed from 1,500 to 500 kilometres per hour.
- About 10 kilometres high it will be freed from the protective shell and begin to analyze the terrain for landing.
- Within six minutes it will free itself from the parachute and top case and then fire up its backrockets.
- The upper part will function as a crane that will lower the rover to the Martian soil at 25 kilometres per hour through ropes. The flying crane will then be removed.
Perseverance is a six-wheel, 1,000-pound rover that carries out several experiments with two objectives: detecting signs that Mars was inhabited in the past and testing technology to conquer the red planet.
1) Eyes to see: MastCam-Z is a pair of zoom cameras located on the rover’s mast. You can build 360-degree stereo and color panoramas for rover driving and research. But the mission has 18 more cameras.
2) Oxygen to breathe: Moxie is an experiment to see if it is possible to produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide that abounds on Mars. Oxygen will not only be necessary for astronauts to breathe, but it is also used as fuel for the rockets charged with their return.
3) Weather station: Meda, the instrument developed by Spanish scientists, is a meteorological station capable of measuring wind speed and direction, humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure and solar radiation. A camera that looks at the sky will study the amount and types of clouds.
4) Arm to drill and analyze: Perseverance has a two-meter long robotic arm with various instruments at its end. It has a camera and an X-ray laser to detect 20 different chemical elements in rock samples and also a drill with which will help to collect samples to analyze or store them in a spatially designed deposit.
5) Underground radar: Rimfax is a radar capable of analyzing the subsoil. Its objective is to improve this type of technology to be able to detect frozen water in future missions, a vital element for a manned mission.
6) A detective and his assistant: Sherloc is an instrument also located in the robotic arm. It is an ultraviolet laser beam that has the ability to analyze samples to detect minerals and organic compounds. It is supported by the Watson camera.
7) Suit to protect yourself: Sherloc will also analyze five samples of materials shipped on the mission that could be used to manufacture the astronauts’ space suits.
8) A serious laser: Supercam is a serious laser because this beam can heat rock to 10,000 degrees. In this way, it is able to analyze the chemical footprint left by this spark. You can analyze samples that are up to seven meters away.
A Martian helicopter
The ninth experiment is Ingenuity, the first artifact to fly off Earth. It will not be easy because on Mars the temperature is 90 degrees below zero and its atmosphere has a density of only one per cent compared to our planet. The advantage is that the low Martian gravity (a third of the terrestrial) makes it lighter.
It is an autonomous helicopter (no human will control it) of 1.8 kilos. It has a propeller with four blades 1.2 meters long each that will rotate at 2,400 revolutions per minute, four times faster than a land helicopter.
It is powered by solar energy and has two cameras, one for navigation and one for photographing the beautiful Martian landscapes and the Perseverance rover itself.