Just before 3:00 p.m. CST on February 18, the Perseverance rover, carrying the Ingenuity Marscopter, successfully touched down in Jezero crater, Mars. The Perseverance rover is the size of a small car and is so far the largest, heaviest, and most advanced rover sent to Mars. The rover has a suite of instruments that will search for clues of past life that may have existed within Jezero crater’s ancient river-lake system, collect geological samples for future missions to return to Earth, and test technologies for the future human exploration of Mars. The Ingenuity Marscopter, an autonomous rotorcraft (helicopter), will conduct its first flight within the next 30 days as the first test of powered, controlled flight on another planet.
During Perseverance’s landing, each stage of entry, descent, and landing (EDL) was executed nominally with engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory monitoring the process intently. Perseverance’s “heartbeat,” similar to a telephone dial tone, was transmitted by its ultra-high-frequency gain antenna and relayed via the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiting spacecraft back to Earth. After separating from the cruise stage that transported Perseverance and Ingenuity to Mars during its 6.5-month-long, nearly 300-million-mile journey, the capsule containing the rover and Marscopter equipped with a heat shield and back shell helped to decelerate the rover from more than 12,000 miles per hour down to 540 miles per hour using atmospheric friction.
Approximately 240 seconds into the entry stage and 7 miles above the surface, the parachute was deployed, followed shortly by jettison of the heat shield to further slow the spacecraft and allowing a new EDL capability — Terrain-Relative Navigation — to get to work. The Terrain-Relative Navigation system used a camera on the bottom of the rover to compare the features on the martian surface to an onboard map to determine its exact trajectory and landing site. The terrain of Jezero crater necessitated little margin for error during landing as it contains steep cliffs, sand, boulders, and craters that can be hazardous to the rover. Roughly 60 seconds before touchdown, the back shell was separated from the powered descent vehicle that houses the “sky crane” system that similarly landed the Curiosity rover in Gale crater in 2012. The jetpack-like descent vehicle hovered the rover above the ground while the sky crane slowly lowered Perseverance using nylon cords. Once Perseverance touched the ground, pyrotechnically activated blades cut the cords to the sky crane and the descent stage crash-landed a safe distance from the rover. Then, images were taken by the rover’s engineering cameras of its landing site, giving us the first glimpse of Perseverance and Ingenuity’s new home in Jezero. Now that Perseverance and Ingenuity have safely landed, scientists are working on Mars time to image and analyze the rocks and soils at the rover’s landing site and make the first plans on where to drive in search of samples to eventually send back to the Earth. READ MORE