Today, NASA has successfully launched its Perseverance rover, marking a milestone in the Mars 2020 mission. The United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541-the rocket which was used to power the rover, took off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:50 a.m with no delays.
The spacecraft is scheduled to land in the 250m deep Jezero crater on 18th February, 2021. The crater in the past had lakes in it, when valley networks were forming on the red planet. However, over time those lakes vanished, and now the region has developed a very dry and dusty environment. The purpose of this mission is to explore ancient environments on Mars to study its surface processes including past habitability, potential for preservation of biosignatures and possibility of past life on the planet. Also, the presence of river delta deposits indicate the existence of microbiological life that might have existed before, which the mission will examine.
The rover is accompanied by a twin-rotor, solar-powered Ingenuity helicopter which will plan the best driving route for it with the help of autonomous controls and communication systems. In addition, it will fly up to as many as five times during the 30 days.
The Perseverance rover will carry seven vital instruments. The Mastcam-Z is capable of taking panoramic and stereoscopic images. The SuperCam will give chemical analysis, imaging and mineralogy at a distance. The Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) will map the fine-scale elemental composition of surface materials. The Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence (SHERLOC) is a spectrometer which provides fine scale imaging and also will use UV lasers to map compounds. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) essentially produces Oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer(MEDIA) will provide magnitudes of temperature, wind speed & direction, pressure and several others through its sensors. The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) will give centimeter scale resolution of the subsurface.
All of these tool will band together for the most extensive research that mankind has conducted on the red planet.
The latest updates which NASA provided in a blog post says that all of today’s milestones have been achieved successfully. “This signifies that JPL’s (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) deep space network has locked on to the spacecraft, which is on its journey to Mars,” said NASA Launch Manager Omar Baez, from the agency’s Launch Services Program. “Everything appears to be going nominally. Today’s count went beautifully.”
The space agency also has a follow up mission planned for the rover in 2026, where it plans to bring samples from Mars back to Earth. NASA plans to send a return rocket to the planet, which will contain yet another rocket that will be used by Perseverance to return to Earth. Scientists plan to study these materials to confirm or deny life on our nearest neighbouring planet.