Rover Perseverance will depart on Thursday and arrive on Mars in February.
It’s imminent: the long-awaited launch of NASA’s latest Mars rover Perseverance. Coming Thursday, the rover – accompanied by a helicopter – will take to the skies. It promises to be an exciting and unique mission in which we will hopefully finally find an answer to that one pressing question: was or is there life on Mars?
The launch of the rover is scheduled for Thursday, July 30, 2020 at ten past two Dutch time from Cape Canaveral in Florida. An Atlas-V rocket then takes Perseverance out of our planet’s atmosphere. And then it starts. In about seven months, the rover will travel some 500 million kilometers to reach the promising Jezero crater on the red planet, where it is expected to arrive on February 18, 2021.
More about Perseverance
The rover is about the size of a small car and has a mass of 1025 kilograms. Perseverance is equipped with seven scientific tools with which he will analyze the geology of the landing site. With this he will look for signs of (former) microbial life in rocks and sediments. The rover will also prepare some Martian stones and dust so that future Mars missions planned for 2030 can easily take them back to Earth.
Mars rover Perseverance and its instruments. Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech
It promises to be a groundbreaking mission. Because although NASA has already sent several rovers to Mars, Perseverance is still unique. It is the first Mars rover to actively search for traces of life. The goal of the mission is to accurately determine if and when Mars may have had ideal conditions for microorganisms to thrive. Where previous Mars rovers were only able to assess the viability of Mars, Perseverance is equipped with instruments that are actually able to find traces of that (former) life. While previous rovers revealed that the relatively inhospitable red planet today may have been livable in the past, in theory Perseverance can actually show whether Mars has been inhabited.
The rover will land in the Jezero crater; a 45 kilometer area just north of the Martian equator. Wavy streaks visible from space here reveal rivers that once flowed across the surface of Mars. It is therefore quite possible that the crater housed a large lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. The name ‘Jezero’ is also derived from this, which means ‘more’ in various Slavic languages. Scientists suspect that the rivers flowing in and out of the lake contain organic molecules, other potential signs of microbial life, or even microorganisms. Traces of this may still be stored in deposits of the river delta or in the sediments of the lake. The Jezero crater is therefore one of the oldest and scientifically one of the most interesting landscapes that Mars has to offer.
Perseverance is equipped with no less than 23 cameras. With this arsenal of cameras, the rover will be able to take sharp photos of the promising landing site. Scientists can now take a close look at the nearly four billion-year-old river delta.
Perseverance doesn’t just travel to the red planet. The Mars rover is accompanied by a real helicopter. A first. Because this Mars helicopter will be the first ‘airplane’ to fly around another planet. The purpose of the helicopter is to make test flights over the landing site in the thin atmosphere of Mars. The Mars helicopter weighs about 1.8 kilos and has two rotating blades. These two blades together account for 3,000 revolutions per minute. In comparison, on Earth, helicopter rotors rotate an average of 250 to 600 times per minute. In addition, the helicopter has solar panels to charge the lithium-ion batteries. In addition, it is equipped with a mechanism to keep itself warm. And that is badly needed, as it can be quite cold at night on the red planet.
Perseverance is the fifth rover that NASA will send to Mars. In 1997, Sojourner – not much bigger than a microwave – landed on the red planet, followed by the twins Spirit and Opportunity – about the size of a golf cart – and the Curiosity rover, still on Mars, which is a bit bigger and can measure in size with a Mini Cooper. In 2018, Marslander Insight subsequently arrived on Mars, which is designed to explore the interior of the planet. And it doesn’t stop after the launch of Perseverance. The next rover is also ready: the European Rosalind Franklin rover. This rover will take samples to a depth of up to two meters and perform highly accurate analyzes to reveal biosignatures. Underground compounds are better protected against destructive cosmic rays. And therefore it is very well possible that the robber finds remains of already extinct Martians.
But we are not there yet. First Thursday Perseverance will be launched. The mission duration of the Mars rover includes one Martian year (which is approximately two Earth years), but the mission could also be extended. A mission that many have eagerly awaited. Because for the first time in 2021 we will actually look for life on Mars.