Perseverance launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 30 , but its journey really began about a decade ago. “There are literally thousands of people over 10 years who worked on this,” says Villar. The new technology aboard the craft was designed to make challenging landings more realistic—and more intriguing Mars missions possible.This mission primarily centers around searching for ancient traces of life. Once in the crater, Perseverance will use tools like the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry to examine soil textures for patterns indicating past microbial activity. The self-driving rover is equipped with a first-ever microphone , plus 23 cameras, including the SuperCam, a laser and camera setup that will analyze the chemical makeup of martian dust and minerals, potentially revealing traces of long-ago life.
The skycrane is outfitted with eight small engines that start firing when the rover is about half a mile up to rapidly slow its fall to just a few miles per hour.“These particular engines are actually a derivative of the original engines developed for Viking landers in the early ’70s, but we've made very significant upgrades,” says Fred Wilson, a propulsion expert at Aerojet Rocketdyne, the company that made the propulsion system for the Perseverance landing system.
The rover also carries technologies unrelated to the search for extraterrestrials. Ingenuity, a little helicopter aboard Perseverance, will perform the first controlled flight on another planet—a Wright Brothers-esque moment for JPL. And the experiments get power from a battery that continuously recharges with US-made plutonium fuel .Since July, as Perseverance has been cruising toward Mars, the numerous antennae aboard have been pinging high-frequency signals to engineers back on Earth. One signal in the X band has relayed a sort of “heartbeat” throughout the rover’s journey. “Every certain amount of seconds, it’ll be like, ‘OK, I'm still good, I'm still good,’” says Villar.
Separate ultrahigh-frequency signals in the megahertz range can also transmit heavier files, like images from Perseverance’s onboard cameras. The rover will communicate with satellites orbiting the Red Planet, and those will transmit its signals back to Earth. (NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Maven satellite, and their NASA cousins have new company: The United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission recently positioned a probe in orbit, which has sent back its first images.) These communication channels will continue pinging NASA on landing day.But even with all of the cameras and the microphone, don’t expect an instant video feed. Those large files will take a while to transmit. Even rudimentary communications like the “heartbeat tone” take 11 minutes and 22 seconds to reach Earth at this time of year. That delay means that NASA engineers won’t have real-time communication with the craft during the infamous “seven minutes of terror,” when it must survive its descent through the martian atmosphere and land autonomously.
You’ll be able to follow along with the news from mission control on the NASA TV Public Channel, the NASA App, YouTube, , and . The official NASA TV stream will begin at 2:15 pm EST on Thursday, February 18.
On February 9, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope spacecraft is expected to enter orbit around Mars after a six-month, 300-million-mile journey from Earth.China’s space agency has been quiet about its plans for visiting the Red Planet, but the craft is expected to attempt a landing shortly after it achieves orbit.