NASA Mars journey gets safely underway

Jon Lawson

NASA has successfully completed the launch of its latest Mars mission.

Its destination is the Jezero Crater, a geographical feature nearly 30 miles wide on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. This location has been selected as it may hold clues about ancient life on the red planet. Some 3 billion years ago it may have been a river delta.

The vehicle that will be doing the looking is the Perseverance rover. It is fitted with far more sensor technology than previous missions, including panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and high-resolution imager and the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyser (MEDA) featuring a set of sensors to provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and dust size and shape. Also onboard is a Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimetre-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface.

Looking for organic compounds, SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) is a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging. It uses an ultraviolet laser to map mineralogy.

Another interesting aspect of the project is Ingenuity - a small helicopter which is to act as a technology demonstrator. It has 4 carbon fibre blades, spinning in opposite directions at 2,400 RPM and will act autonomously and send data to the rover. To do this it features various new technologies, such as its solar cells, but also off-the-shelf items like cameras and inertial measurement units borrowed from mobile phones.

If all goes to plan the ship will land on Mars in February 2021.

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