February 25, 2021

‘Perseverance’ manages to reach Mars in search of traces of life


The ‘Perseverance’ has managed to step on the soil of Mars. After more than six months and millions of kilometers of crossing through space, the vehicle sent by NASA has managed to overcome the difficulties involved in crossing the Martian atmosphere by slowing down enough and has made landfall. It was the most critical moment of the mission: seven minutes in which the aircraft had to go from a maximum speed of 19,300 km / hour to land softly, at about 2 km / hour, on the surface of the red planet.

The Spanish science that 'Perseverance' leads to Mars

The Spanish science that ‘Perseverance’ leads to Mars

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This maneuver, known as EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing -Entrance, Descent and Landing-) had a great complexity: Upon entering the Martian atmosphere, the capsule has reached its maximum speed. Guiding thrusters have balanced it and secured its orientation to land at the expected location. 57 kilometers from the surface, the spacecraft’s heat shield reaches a temperature of 1,500ºC. It is then that the atmosphere gradually thickens and the speed decreases. After readjusting the orientation with a charging mechanism, having already reached about 12 kilometers from the planet, the parachute has been deployed, its speed being considerably reduced. Just a minute and a half from touching land, the TRN instruments have come into operation, a new system that, through artificial intelligence, calculates the ideal place to perch. Then it was the turn of a crane in which the rover is docked. After separating from the capsule, about 2 kilometers from the surface, the crane -skycrane- and the rover descend in free fall. It is then when four pairs of rockets have been activated that have stabilized the fall and directed the ship to the place selected by the TRN. At 20 meters, the skycrane has descended to the rover by means of cables. And the Perserverance has touched Martian land. Small pyrotechnic charges placed on the cables have separated the crane from the rover. The skycrane has already fulfilled its function and, after starting an inclined flight so as not to endanger the vehicle, it has crashed far away. Everything has gone as planned.

11 minutes away at the speed of light

All this complex technical choreography has been done automatically. The enormous distance between Mars and Earth made it impossible for NASA engineers to control the landing live. Although communications travel at the speed of light, it takes 11 minutes and 21 seconds for the signal sent from the red planet to reach us. For this reason, the space agency engineers have automated the process, adjusting a series of parameters hours before landing.

It is the largest and most sophisticated vehicle that has ever been sent to land on another planet. ‘Perseverance’ took off on July 30, 2020 with the aim of finding evidence of ancient microbial life on the neighboring planet, especially in rocks known for their ability to preserve biological remains for a long time. It also seeks to explore and sample a novel environment. You will collect fragments of the ground with the intention of bringing them back to Earth on future missions, and you will analyze the geology, climate, and habitable conditions of the planet to prepare the way for future explorations.

This ‘rover’ is the size of a car and weighs a ton. It measures approximately 3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide and 2.2 meters high. It is equipped with seven instruments to collect information. Two of them have had Spanish participation in their development. One is MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer), a station that will allow you to measure the weather on the red planet at any time. It is a tool that will capture images of the sky and measure wind, solar radiation, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, temperature, and infrared and ultraviolet radiation. The other instrument to which Spanish science has contributed is SuperCam, which will examine the rocks and minerals of Mars using five different techniques. It will allow to deepen the geological knowledge of the Martian surface.

Three trips to Mars in a month

‘Perseverance’ has not been the only one to arrive on Mars this month. On February 9, Hope did, a probe sent by the United Arab Emirates that will orbit around the planet to study its meteorological changes throughout a Martian year. And the next day Tianwen-1 arrived, which, like its Arab companion, will orbit around the planet but, in addition to that, will drop a ‘lander’ with a ‘rover’ from May that will explore the Utopia Planitia region, in whose subsoil there is icy water . All three have entered Mars in close proximity because they took off last July taking advantage of a ‘launch window’, a time when the distance between Earth and its neighbor is less, which occurs every 26 months.

The NASA vehicle was looking to land in Jezero, a crater about 50 kilometers in diameter located in the equatorial zone of the red planet. What is special about that area? That millions of years ago there was a lake in which a river flowed, according to experts suspect. This river carried clay compounds that usually trap organic matter, and that is why its mouth is a good place to look for remains of life.

The cost of the mission is estimated at about 2,700 million dollars: 2,200 for the development of the ship, 243 for the launch and 300 for the operations that will take place in the two years during which the ‘rover’ will be active, at least.

With information from the Sinc Agency

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