When it comes to space exploration and in particular the Mars (the famed Red Planet), an important event scheduled to take place next month in July 2020 – NASA’s 5th MARS rover is scheduled to be launched and is expected to land in MARS on February 2021. Information & Image Sources: Wikipedia & NASA & JPL
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List of Rovers on MARS
As at todate, we have sent 6 rovers to the Red Planet of which 2 are from the Soviet and 4 is from the US:-
Mars 2, Prop-M rover, 1971, Mars 2 landing failed taking Prop-M with it. The Mars 2 and 3 spacecraft from the Soviet Union had identical 4.5 kg Prop-M rovers. They were to move on skis while connected to the landers with cables.
Mars 3, Prop-M rover, 1971, lost when Mars 3 lander stopped communicating about 20 seconds after landing.
Sojourner rover, Mars Pathfinder, landed successfully on July 4, 1997. Communications were lost on September 27, 1997.
Spirit (MER-A), Mars Exploration Rover, launched on June 10, 2003, and landed on January 4, 2004. Nearly 6 years after the original mission limit, Spirit had covered a total distance of 7.73 km (4.80 mi) but its wheels became trapped in sand. The last communication received from the rover was on March 22, 2010, and NASA ceased attempts to re-establish communication on May 25, 2011.
Opportunity (MER-B), Mars Exploration Rover, launched on July 7, 2003, and landed on January 25, 2004. Opportunity surpassed the previous records for longevity at 5,352 sols (5498 Earth days from landing to mission end; 15 Earth years or 8 Martian years) and coverance of 45.16 km (28.06 mi).
The rover sent its last status on 10 June 2018 when a global 2018 Mars dust storm blocked the sunlight needed to recharge its batteries. After hundreds of attempts to reactivate the rover, NASA declared the mission complete on February 13, 2019.
Curiosity of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission by NASA, was launched November 26, 2011and landed at the Aeolis Palus plain near Aeolis Mons (informally “Mount Sharp”) in Gale Crater on August 6, 2012. The Curiosity rover is still operational as of June 2020.
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The Mars 2020 mission is expected to be launched between the 20th July 2020 – 11th August 2020 window and the rover is expected to land on Mars on 18th February 2021. The mission is expected to last at least 1 Mars Year which is approximately 687 Earth days.
The Mars 2020 mission with its Perseverance rover is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The Mars 2020 mission addresses high-priority science goals for the Red Planet exploration, including key Astrobiology questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself.
The Perseverance rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of the Red Planet. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth. That would help scientists study the samples in laboratories with special room-sized equipment that would be too large to take to the Red Planet. The mission also provides opportunities to gather knowledge and demonstrate technologies that address the challenges of future human expeditions to the Red Planet.
These include 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 the Red Planet.
The mission is timed for a launch opportunity in July 2020 when Earth and the Red Planet are in good positions relative to each other for landing on the Red Planet. That is, it takes less power to travel to the Red Planet at this time, compared to other times when Earth and Mars are in different positions in their orbits. To keep mission costs and risks as low as possible, the Mars 2020 design is based on NASA’s successful Mars Science Laboratory mission architecture, including its Curiosity rover and proven landing system.
The Perseverance rover has four science objectives that support the Program’s science goals:
- Looking for Habitability: Identify past environments capable of supporting microbial life
- Seeking Biosignatures: Seek signs of possible past microbial life in those habitable environments, particularly in special rocks known to preserve signs of life over time
- Caching Samples: Collect core rock and “soil” samples and store them on the Martian surface
- Preparing for Humans: Test oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere
All relate to the potential of the Red Planet as a place for life. The first three consider the possibility of past microbial life. Even if the rover does not discover any signs of past life, it paves the way for human life on the Red Planet someday. The Perseverance rover also conducts other scientific studies related to its four objectives. For example, the rover monitors weather and dust in the Martian atmosphere. Such studies are important for understanding daily and seasonal changes on the Red Planet, and will help future human explorers better predict Martian weather.
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Instruments Onboard Perseverance
The rover is expected to weigh about 1,025 kilograms at the point of launch and carries a small nuclear generator as the main source of power with 2 lithium-ion rechargeable batteries for additional power. It also carries the following payload for it’s MARS scientific objectives
Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials
Radar Imager for Mars’ subsurface experiment (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar to image different ground densities, structural layers, buried rocks, meteorites, and detect underground water ice and salty brine at 10 metres (33 ft) depth. The RIMFAX is being provided by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI)
Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that measure temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, radiation, and dust particle size and shape. It will be provided by Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología
Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce a small amount of oxygen (O2) from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This technology could be scaled up in the future for human life support or to make the rocket fuel for return missions.
SuperCam, an instrument suite that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy in rocks and regolith from a distance. It is an upgraded version of the ChemCam on the Curiosity rover but with two lasers and four spectrometers that will allow it to remotely identify biosignatures and assess the past habitability. Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP) in France, the French Space Agency (CNES), the University of Hawaii, and the University of Valladolid in Spain cooperated in the SuperCam’s development and manufacture.
Mastcam-Z, a stereoscopic imaging system with the ability to zoom.
Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), an ultraviolet Raman spectrometer that uses fine-scale imaging and an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds.
Mars Helicopter Ingenuity is a solar-powered helicopter drone with a mass of 1.8 kilograms (4.0 lb) that will be tested for flight stability and for its potential to scout the best driving route for the rover. Other than cameras, it carries no scientific instruments. Its job is merely to demonstrate the practicality of flight on Mars. The small helicopter is expected to fly up to five times during its 30-day testing and will fly no more than 3 minutes per day. It is a technology demonstrator that will form the foundation on which more capable helicopters can be developed for aerial exploration of the Red Planet and other planetary targets with an atmosphere.
Two microphones will be used during the landing event while driving, and when collecting samples.
23 cameras in total are included in the Perseverance rover
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As the world looks at a global virus pandemic and a recent riot in the US over the death of a man in the hands of the police, there is a glimpse of hope that we have yet to lose our focus on the bigger picture out there. The advancement in technology and space exploration must continue and hopefully will reflect the rest of the world on how petty our issues on race, religion and border controls have really been.
Mars have always had held our fascination as our next possible home after Earth and perhaps the Moon in the near future. The presence of rovers on the planet on almost 2 years mission is helping to expand our knowledge on the Red Planet and pave the step for NASA man mission in 2030 (Mars One however and unfortunately is dead). This rover 2020 mission will be the start of this grand mission.