Martian Rover Perseverance Update; Future Mars Events to Look Out For

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Even amid the pandemic-hit world, NASA has continued to persevere with its missions. NASA’s flagship Martian rover – Perseverance – took flight on 30th July 2020. The $2.7 Billion project is the centrepiece of NASA’s Mars 2020 Mission and other space exploration programs.

On the day of the launch, the Virtual Telescope Project shared an image of the rover mission.

The team got a view of the booster as well. Gianluca Masi, lead of the Virtual Telescope Project stated:

The telescope tracked the fast apparent motion of the [spacecraft]; this is why stars show as trails, while the spacecraft looks like a bright and sharp dot of light in the center of the image.

NASA’s weather satellite, GOES-16 also caught a glance of the mission. It captured the smoke plume, which was released post-launch. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the image on the internet, which shows the trail of smoke plume after the launch. In a subsequent tweet, NOAA released the image of a red streak left behind by the rover.

About one week after the lift-off, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter was recharged for the very first time. The aircraft required six lithium-ion batteries which were powered up in eight hours.

For the uninitiated, Ingenuity is a robot helicopter which hitched a ride on the rover’s belly. What makes it stand apart is that Ingenuity will be the first such aircraft to test controlled flight on Mars. If successful, Ingenuity will open the doors to future missions where aircraft will be able to fly in the Martian atmosphere. The aircraft will be able to give the view of terrains which might otherwise not be possible for the rovers to reach. A NASA official stated that Ingenuity would be charged every two weeks to maintain an “acceptable state of charge.”

On Aug. 14, the rover fired-up its deep-space thrusters for the very first time. Perseverance streamlined its route to Mars with its first Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM). The Twitter handle of the rover stated: “My first planned Trajectory Correction Maneuver was a success. I do TCMs on my journey to stay on target for a Feb. 18, 2021 date with Mars. I left Earth over two weeks ago and already put on 27+ million miles. Only ~265 million more to go!”

Perseverance is to make a total of 6 TCMs before it lands on Mars in February 2021. Of this, it has successfully completed one TCM, and the next TCM will be carried out 48 days from today. The final TCM will be carried out hours before the landing on the Red Planet. 

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NASA has also set up a team, Mars Sample Return Program Independent Review Board for assistance in the current plans of the mission. The Perseverance rover is a very complicated, one-of-a-kind mission because it is here to answer whether life existed on the Red Planet. The rover will collect samples from the planet which will be sent back to Earth for the scientists to study them and come to a staunch conclusion. The expert panel appointed by NASA will review the technical development to fulfil the project’s critical specifications. This will also ensure that NASA is learning from its past missions to make the present ones successful by detecting any problems at the early stages itself. One of the executives from the agency stated:

Mars Sample Return is a very high priority for the scientific community, based on the decadal survey and also of strategic importance for our Moon to Mars exploration program. It’s a highly complex international mission which requires focus to achieve technical, programmatic and mission success, and we want to have all the expertise available to us at this early stage to maximize mission success.

As the review process proceeds, the European Space Agency (which will play a primary role in returning the rock samples back to Earth) will be consulted thoroughly. The Board is scheduled to meet for around eight weeks – starting from the end of this month. A final report will be delivered post-review. 

Future Mars Programs

2021 will see an increase of buzz around Mars, and for all the right reasons. Three spacecraft – Perseverance included – are expected to reach Mars in the spring of 2021. The two other spacecraft were launched by China’s Tianwen-1 and United Arab Emirates’ Al-Amal (Hope) just a few weeks ago. The three spacecraft will serve their own goals on the planet. 

However, any other Martian spacecraft will not launch until 2022 because these missions require the orbits of Earth and Mars to align for shorter transit time.  

Humanity has been exploring Mars for a long time. What has changed is the way in which we pushed the investigation. For 150 years, we have explored Mars using telescopes, 50 years from orbits and 20 years from Martian rovers. Perhaps if Perseverance really stands up to its name, we will be able to study Mars from our very own laboratories about a decade from now. 


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