In photos: NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover mission to the Red Planet

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover will land inside Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, at 3:40 p.m. EST (7:30 p.m. GMT). The 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater lies about 19 degrees north of the Red Planet’s equator. The rover will study the crater’s geology, hunt for subsurface water ice, and test out its scientific instruments. 

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This map of Mars shows the location of the Jezero Crater, as well as the locations of where NASA's other successful Mars missions landed. The Jezero Crater is believed to have contained a lake and a river delta in the ancient past. Thus, the rover will begin its mission on Mars searching the area for signs of long-dead life.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars landing sites

This map of Mars shows the location of the Jezero Crater, as well as the locations of where NASA’s other successful Mars missions landed. The Jezero Crater is believed to have contained a lake and a river delta in the ancient past. Thus, the rover will begin its mission on Mars searching the area for signs of long-dead life. 

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL)

Jezero Crater

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured this view of the Jezero Crater, the landing site for the Perseverance Mars rover. This Martian crater offers an optimal landing site, as it has geologically rich terrain dating as far back as 3.6 billion years old. 

“On ancient Mars, water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins,” NASA officials said in a statement. “Examination of spectral data acquired from orbit show that some of these sediments have minerals that indicate chemical alteration by water. Here in Jezero Crater delta, sediments contain clays and carbonates.”

The rover aims to collect samples from the area to be brought back to Earth during a future mission. In turn, these samples could help answer important questions in planetary evolution and Mars’ ability to harbor life. 

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance’s science instruments

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is equipped with seven science and exploration instruments. This includes two cameras — Mastcam-Z and SuperCam — located at the head of the rover, giving the cameras a wide field of view. The rover also has two additional imaging instruments to study the composition and mineralogy of Martian surface materials: the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) and the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC). 

The Perseverance rover also has an instrument called the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE). Located on the front right side of the rover, MOXIE will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. Thus, this exploration technology will help determine the feasibility of future oxygen generators to support human missions on Mars. 

In addition, the rover is outfitted with a set of five sensors — called the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) — that will measure the weather and dust in the atmosphere on Mars, as well as a ground-penetrating radar, called the Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX), which will study geologic features under the Martian surface. 

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Detecting Martian rock chemistry

The Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and high-resolution imager that can determine the composition of Martian surface materials as small as a grain of sand. Located on the rover’s robotic arm, PIXL will use a focused X-ray beam that causes the rocks to glow. In turn, the glow produced will vary according to the rock’s elemental chemistry. 

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Dynamic duo: SHERLOC and WATSON

The Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) will use an ultraviolet laser to identify mineralogy and detect organic compounds on the surface of the Red Planet. Located on the end of the rover’s robotic arm, SHERLOC features an auto-focusing camera called WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering).

Using the images captured by WATSON, SHERLOC’s ultraviolet laser is able to focus on the center of rock surfaces and detect microscopic minerals. This data will help the rover determine which rocks to drill and collect samples of to be returned to Earth with a future mission.

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance’s cameras

This is a close-up view of the head of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover remote sensing mast. The mast head contains two cameras, known as Mastcam-Z and SuperCam. The Mastcam-Z is an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability and the ability to zoom. In addition to imaging, the SuperCam will be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance. 

The SuperCam instrument is the large lens on the front of the mast head, while the two Mastcam-Z imagers are housed in the gray boxes beneath mast head. The rover also has two navigation cameras on the exterior sides of the two Mastcam-Z imagers.

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Protecting Perseverance

Built by Lockheed Martin, the Perseverance rover’s heat shield and cone-shaped back shell will protect the spacecraft during its passage to the Red Planet. As the spacecraft descends through the Martian atmosphere, it will experience extreme amounts of friction. The heat shield will protect the spacecraft from the high temperatures created by this friction. 

In addition, the back shell contains several elements critical to landing the rover, including the parachute and antennas for communication. In this image, the back shell sits on a support structure. A portion of the descent stage and rover can also be seen directly below the lower edge of the back shell.

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames)

Parachute for Perseverance

Perseverance is equipped with a supersonic parachute that measures 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) in diameter. The rover’s parachute is imperative for ensuring the spacecraft lands safely on the Red Planet. It is similar to the parachute successfully flown by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover in 2012, but designed to be a little stronger, given Perseverance is heavier than Curiosity. 

In this photo from June 2017, the parachute was tested in a wind tunnel at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. During this test, engineers verified the parachute would hold up under the strain of slowing the fast-moving spacecraft down in the Martian atmosphere. Subsequent tests of the parachute and its deployment mortar were conducted throughout 2018 and 2019. On March 26, 2020, technicians finished installing the rover’s parachute system.

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Mars helicopter

On April 6, the Mars Helicopter, also known as Ingenuity, and its delivery system were attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

The Mars Helicopter is a small robotic helicopter that is designed to scout targets on Mars and help plan the best driving route for Mars rovers. The helicopter will be deployed to the Martian surface about two-and-a-half months after Perseverance lands, and will test powered flight on another world for the first time. 

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ensuring safe travels for Ingenuity

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity stands 19 inches (0.5 m) tall and weighs just 4 lbs.pounds (1.8 kg). It is equipped with two sets of rotor blades that span some 4 feet (1.2 m) each. 

The small drone helicopter must safely detach from the Perseverance rover to start its mission. A shield will cover the helicopter and its delivery system to protect it during landing. After the rover touches down on the Red Planet, the shield will fall away and a latch will release the helicopter from the belly of the rover, initiating a sequence of events to bring the helicopter down to the Martian surface. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin Space tested the helicopters delivery system. 

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance nameplate

A titanium nameplate was installed on the rover’s robotic arm. The titanium plate will help protect power and data cables that extend from the rover’s body to actuators in its robotic arm and other instruments. The plate will shield rock and debris from impacting the cables as Perseverance moves around the Red Planet.

Measuring 17 inches long by 3.25 inches wide (43 cm long by 8.26 cm wide), and weighing 104 grams (3.7 ounces), the name plate is made of titanium and coated with black thermal paint. The plate was cut using a water jet and engraved with the rover’s name using a computer-guided laser.

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Tribute to healthcare workers

A commemorative plate was also installed on the left side of the rover chassis. The plate pays tribute to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world. 

Measuring 3-by-5-inches (8-by-13-centimeters), the plate is made of aluminum and was attached to the rover in May 2020 during final assembly at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

First driving test

The Perseverance rover took its first test drive on Dec. 17, 2019, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). During the test, the rover successfully rolled forward and backward, and turned around in a circle for the very first time. The short-distance drive test took place in a clean room at JPL, where the rover was built. NASA engineers tested the rover’s driving capabilities for more than ten hours, according to the space agency. 

The rover has six wheels that are designed for added durability. During the drive test, the rover conquered small inclines. The next drive the Mars 2020 will take will be on the rugged Martian surface.

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(Image credit: Christian Mangano/NASA)

Preparing launch configuration

NASA engineers working on Perseverance began placing the rover and its components into configuration for launch in April 2020. This process started with the integration of the rover and its rocket-powered descent stage, according to a statement from NASA. 

On April 29, the rover and descent stage were attached to the cone-shaped back shell, captured in the picture above. The assembly took place inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The back shell contains the parachute and, along with the mission’s heat shield, provides protection for the rover and descent stage as the spacecraft descends through the Martian atmosphere. 

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(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/KSC)

Rover assembly

The rover’s disk-shaped cruise stage sits atop the cone-shaped back shell. The brass-colored heat shield below is about to be attached to the back shell in this image taken on May 28, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

During the rover’s descent to the Martian surface, the back shell and cruise stage will separate at about 6 miles (9 kilometers) above Mars’ Jezero Crater.

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(Image credit: NASA)

Arrival of Atlas V rocket

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover will fly on top of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket when it launches to the Red Planet on July 30, 2020. The first stage of the Atlas V rocket arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 11, 2020. It travelled to the space center on an Antonov cargo plane. 

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(Image credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA)

Move to launch pad

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster for NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover was moved to the Vertical Integration Facility at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 28, 2020. The mission will launch from this location on July 30. 

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(Image credit: NASA)

Perseverance encapsulation

On June 18, 2020, the Perseverance Mars rover was prepared for encapsulation in the United Launch Alliance Atlas V payload fairing, or nose cone. 

The two halves of the cone are seen on each side of Perseverance. The spacecraft was encased prior to being placed atop the Atlas V rocket. The nose cone will protect the spacecraft during launch. 

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(Image credit: NASA/KSC)

Mated to its rocket

The payload fairing containing the Perseverance rover was raised atop the launch vehicle on July 7. This photo was taken inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. 

“I have seen my fair share of spacecraft being lifted onto rockets,” John McNamee, project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “But this one is special because there are so many people who contributed to this moment. To each one of them I want to say, we got here together, and we’ll make it to Mars the same way.”

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