MARS 2020 PERSEVERANCE ROVER

While the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover borrows from the design of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)’s Curiosity rover, each has its own role in the ongoing exploration of Mars, and the search for ancient life. [1]

Mission

NASA’s first Astrobiology-focused mission, the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, will search for signs of ancient microbial life, which will advance NASA's quest to explore the past habitability of Mars. The Perseverance rover has a drill to collect core samples of Martian rock and soil, then store them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission that would ferry them back to Earth for detailed analysis.

There are several ways that the mission helps pave the way for future human expeditions to Mars, including the demonstration of technologies that may be used in those endeavors. For example, strapped to the rover's belly for the journey to Mars is a technology demonstration — the Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, which will test the first powered flight on the Red Planet.

The mission also includes testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, identifying other resources (such as subsurface water), improving landing techniques, and characterizing weather, dust, and other potential environmental conditions that could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars. [2]

Science

Perseverance’s older cousin, the Curiosity rover, explored the “habitability” of Mars. It found nutrients and energy sources that microbes could have used, establishing that Mars indeed had regions that could have been friendly to life in the ancient past. Perseverance takes the next step by looking for the signs of past life itself.

Perseverance is set to explore Mar’s Jezero crater. This crater was chosen given that, from orbit, it shows promising signs of a place that was likely friendly to life in the distant past. The rover’s goal is to study the site in detail for its past conditions, and to seek signs of past life. Towards this goal, Perseverance will identify and collect the most compelling rock core and soil samples that a future mission could retrieve and bring back to Earth for further detailed study.

Perseverance has four main science objectives.

  • Geology: Study the rocks and landscape at its landing site to reveal the region’s history
  • Astrobiology: Determine whether an area of interest was suitable for life, and look for signs of ancient life itself
  • Sample Caching: Find and collect promising samples of Mars rock and soil that could be brought back to Earth in the future
  • Prepare for Humans: Test technologies that would help sustain human presence on Mars someday [3]

Rover Spacecraft

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is based on the Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover configuration. It is car-sized, about 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall (about 3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall), weighing 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms), less than a compact car. [4]

Primary Instruments

The Perseverance rover will carry seven primary instruments:

Exploration Environment

The landing site for the Perseverance rover is Mar’s Jezero Crater, an area that scientists believe was once flooded with water, and was home to an ancient river delta. The crater is 28 miles (45 kilometers) wide, and is located on the western edge of a flat plain called Isidis Planitia, which lies just north of the Martian equator.

The Jezero crater was chosen as it tells a story of the on-again, off-again nature of the wet past of Mars. It is believed that river channels spilled over the crater wall more than 3.5 billion years ago, and created a lake. Scientists see evidence that water carried clay minerals from the surrounding area into the crater lake. Microbial life could have conceivably lived in Jezero during one or more of these wet times, and if so, signs of their remains might be found in lakebed or shoreline sediments. [6]

Mission Team

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission. The Perseverance team is made up of scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines, with international participation from countries and organizations around the world, and includes principal investigators from the U.S., Spain, and Norway. [7]

Mission Timeline

The Perseverance rover is now on its way to Mars. It launched July 30, 2020, at 4:50 a.m. PDT (7:50 a.m. EDT) on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V-541 rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. [8] It is anticipated to land on Mars February 18, 2021. Surface operations are expected last at least one Mars year (about 687 Earth days). [9]

Recent News

In September 2020, it was reported that as Perseverance hurtles through space toward the Red Planet, its Earth twin, a full-scale engineering version of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover – outfitted with wheels, cameras, and powerful computers to help it drive autonomously – moved into its garage home at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Yard. The engineering model of the Perseverance Mars Rover will be used for testing. The team needs this Earth-bound vehicle system test bed (VSTB) rover to gauge how hardware and software will perform before they transmit commands up to Perseverance on Mars. This rover model will be particularly useful for completing a full set of software tests, so the team can send up patches while Perseverance is en-route to Mars, or after it has landed. [10]

Updated: October 2020, Diane M. Long