NASA is ready to launch another rover to Mars with a surprise addition. The newest mission will take off July 30 2020 (or whichever day the weather allows) and is called Mars 2020. The mission is part of the ongoing Mars Exploration Program NASA funds to explore Mars. The mission includes a rover and a helicopter. The United Launch Alliance was contracted to use an Atlas V rocket for the launch vehicle which will launch from Cape Canaveral in the tradition of so many NASA missions. The pair will travel months through space until they reach Mars. Once there NASA’s team plans for them to land at the Jezero Crater on February 18 2021. The main goal of the mission is to investigate the geology of the area to determine if life existed there in the past or if it was possible.
The main investigatory vehicle which will be used on Mars is the Perseverance rover, based on the current Curiosity rover, which is loaded with scientific instruments. Perseverance will also store samples of soil or rocks it collects for a future return mission. The other addition to the mission which was mentioned above is the helicopter. It is not nearly as large as we’re used to but it will still be able to fly and give us aerial views from just above the surface. The helicopter is named Ingenuity. Now that we know what they’ll be doing I’ll show you how exactly they’ll go about it. Perseverance is up first.
The rover is coated with scientific instruments necessary to fully investigate the ground down to the little hydrogen atoms. They are listed here:
- Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) – an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer which uses x-rays or gamma rays to determine the identity of atoms it is testing
- Radar Imager for Mars’ subsurface experiment (RIMFAX) – a ground penetrating radar used to see the underground geology ranging from minerals to ice
- Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) – a variety of sensors that analyze the weather on Mars, specifically the dust since dust storms on Mars are so common
- Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) – will produce oxygen from carbon dioxide via solid oxide electrolysis
- Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) – an ultraviolet Raman spectrometer which uses a UV laser to analyze the soil for biosignatures
- SuperCam – a camera, two lasers and four spectrometers which can analyze the ground for biosignatures through a combination of different forms of spectrometry
- Mastcam-Z – a multispectral camera capable of imaging in RBG and VNIR which will survey the land, study the weather and aid researchers in seeing every step they take. Two of them will be used.
There are also Navcams for maneuvering, Hazcams to identify possible hazards and overall 23 cameras to photograph and record everything along with 2 microphones. The rover also has more durable wheels because Curiosity sustained some damage to its wheels and they’re quite important when they can’t be repaired. The PIXL and SHERLOC are attached to a 7 ft. long robotic arm that the rover has.
Most of these devices the scientists and engineers will use are standard or fairly modern but MOXIE is a bit different from the rest. Since MOXIE will generate oxygen, which is very useful in places where there is none, the team is interested to observe how efficient it will be. If it works at a consistent rate they could land a larger version in the future which would generate large amounts of oxygen. This could be used as fuel for a sample-return lander, spare oxygen for astronauts or a propellant for a return trip to Earth. Carbon monoxide is produced in the reaction which could also be used as a propellant or converted to methane for the same use. This is also a chance for scientists to practice ISRU (in situ resource utilization) or using stuff you find where you are. If oxygen can be generated easily on Mars it means you need less for round trips and can even use it there if you’re running low.
While Perseverance will very much be the star let’s not forget about Ingenuity. The drone will weigh just 1.8 kg and only fly for periods of up to 3 minutes. Its flights will be used to survey the area near Perseverance for places to explore as well as play lookout for any problems which are difficult to see (the drone has cameras for this). Ingenuity will not be used to analyze Martian soil like the rover and is being used as a feasibility study to test the idea of flight on Mars. In the future we could see fleets of drones outnumbering the people on the planet they’re on. Aside from these two, let’s look at a part of the mission which rarely gets as much press coverage.
I don’t think people appreciate how international these efforts really are and to show this I’ll go through the different universities, agencies and organizations which have contributed to this project. The MEDA was made at the Spanish Astrobiology Center at the Spanish National Research Council. MOXIE was designed at MIT with the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen collaborating. Other organizations involved included the Arizona State University, the Imperial College of Science, International Program Manager Jeff Mellstrom from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ceramatec, Inc.(SOXE), Air Squared (compressor) Space Exploration Instruments LLC., the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark. RIFMAX was made by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. SuperCam was developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of Hawaii, the University of Valladolid, the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP) and the French Space Agency (CNES). SHERLOC was made by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with other parts provided by Malin Space Science Systems and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The MastCam-Z’s Principal Investigator is Jim Bell from the Arizona State University but Malin Space Science Systems will build it. Ingenuity was made by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with assistance from the Ames Research Center, the Langley Research Center and AeroVironment Inc.
The Register: https://www.theregister.com/2014/07/31/nasa_mars_rover_2020/
Space News: https://spacenews.com/38288mars-2020-rover-to-include-test-device-to-tap-planets-atmosphere-for/
Decision expected soon on adding helicopter to Mars 2020
The Planetary Society: https://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2014/08190630-curiosity-wheel-damage.html
Spaceflight Now: https://spaceflightnow.com/2016/07/25/nasa-books-nuclear-certified-atlas-5-rocket-for-mars-2020-rover-launch/
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