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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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

Mars 2020 mission launch

The Mars 2020 mission successfully launched toward the Red Planet on July 30, 2020, at 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT), riding an Atlas V rocket into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket launched from Space Launch Complex-41, carrying NASA’s next Mars rover, named Perseverance.

Shortly after liftoff, Perseverance experienced minor communications and temperature glitches that left the spacecraft in a protective “safe mode” for a brief period of time. The unexpected temperature difference occurred when the spacecraft zoomed through Earth’s shadow. However, this did not harm the mission, as the spacecraft was taken out of “safe mode” and returned to normal operations the next day (July 31, 2020).

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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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NASA's Mars 2020 will land in Jezero Crater, pictured here. The image was taken by instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions.

(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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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance’s path

This image captures one of the possible routes charted for Perseverance. This path takes the rover across Jezero Crater as it investigates various ancient environments that may have once been habitable. In this photo — taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter — the rover’s route begins at the cliffs defining the base of a delta, where a river once flowed into a lake that filled the crater billions of years ago. 

The rover will then travel up and across the delta toward possible ancient shoreline deposits, before climbing to the top of the crater rim, which rises 2,000 feet (610 meters) high. Perseverance will then explore the plains surrounding the crater rim. The rover’s mission will last approximately one Mars year, or about 687 Earth days. 

During its time on the Red Planet, Perseverance will hunt for signs of ancient Mars life, while also collecting at least 20 samples of Martian rock and soil for future return to Earth. The Mars 2020 mission marks humanity’s first interplanetary sample-return campaign.

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Step-by-step landing guide

This illustration captures a step-by-step view of the seven-minute entry, descent and landing (EDL) plan for NASA’s Mars 2020 spacecraft. The sequence begins when the Mars 2020 spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere and ends with the Perseverance rover stationary on the Martian surface, ready to start its roughly two-year mission exploring Jezero Crater.

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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

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

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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 launched from this location on July 30, 2020.  

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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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NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover waits to be lifted onto its Atlas V launch vehicle at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020.

(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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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars 2020 Perseverance in flight

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is currently en route to Mars, with only a few weeks left before its scheduled landing inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. You can follow the mission in real time as it cruises toward the Red Planet. 

An interactive NASA web application called Eyes on the Solar System shows you where Perseverance is as the rover travels millions of miles through deep space. The application uses the same trajectory data that the navigation team used to plot Perseverance’s course to Mars, allowing users to visualize the spacecraft’s journey. You can track the distance remaining until Perseverance reaches Mars and view the spacecraft up close. 

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars 2020 spacecraft components

The Mars 2020 spacecraft has five major components, including the top ring-shaped cruise stage, backshell, descent stage, Perseverance rover and heat shield. Each of the various components perform a critical function throughout the spacecraft’s mission. 

The cruise stage provides power, telecommunications, navigation and propulsion for the roughly six-and-a-half month journey to Mars. The backshell houses the descent stage and rover, while the heat shield protects the vehicle from burning up in the extreme heat generated during the initial descent through the planet’s atmosphere. Together, the backshell and the heat shield form a capsule known as the aeroshell.

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars 2020 flight director

On Sept. 30, 2020, NASA completed the second trajectory correction maneuver (TCM-2) for the Mars 2020 mission. Matt Smith, flight director for TCM-2, is photographed donning a mask as he studies the screens at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. TCMs are a series of planned adjustments to put the rover on the correct path to land on Mars. The agency has planned a total of five trajectory correction maneuvers for the Mars 2020 mission.

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Correcting Perseverance’s trajectory

The Mars 2020 navigation team celebrated Perseverance’s second trajectory correction maneuver in the Mission Support Area at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

During this type of maneuver, engineers adjust the vehicle’s path by firing eight thrusters on the cruise stage for a specific amount of time. Fine-tuning the spacecraft’s flight path helps ensure that it will enter the Martian atmosphere and land inside Jezero crater as planned.

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Aeroshell separation

As the spacecraft cruises toward the Red Planet, the Perseverance rover and its descent stage are protected inside a capsule known as an aeroshell, which is attached to the ring-shaped cruise stage. Measuring nearly 15 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter, the aeroshell consists of two parts: the backshell and the heat shield, which protects the spacecraft during entry, descent and landing (EDL). The aeroshell will separate from the cruise stage about 10 minutes before Mars 2020 enters Mars’ atmosphere. Then, the aeroshell travels to the Martian surface on its own.

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Entering the Martian atmosphere

The entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase begins when Perseverance reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere, at which point it will be travelling nearly 12,100 mph (19,500 kph). About 90 seconds after atmospheric entry, peak deceleration occurs as the spacecraft slows to under 1,000 mph (1,600 kph). 

The atmospheric drag helps to slow the spacecraft during its descent. The aeroshell will also fire small thrusters on the backshell to reorient itself and make sure the heat shield is facing the Red Planet as it plunges into the atmosphere. This will help ensure the spacecraft is protected as it endures peak temperatures of 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit (1,300 degrees Celsius) upon entering the Martian atmosphere. 

Perseverance is also equipped with a microphone that will record the sounds of its entry, descent and landing — a sequence sometimes referred to as “seven minutes of terror.” The Mars 2020 team tested the mic in flight on Oct. 19, 2020 to ensure it was functioning properly. In the process, the team captured a whirring sound made by the rover’s thermal system, confirming the microphone is working well.

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance’s parachute

It will take approximately seven minutes for the entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase to be complete. About four minutes after entering the Martian atmosphere, the spacecraft will deploy a supersonic parachute from its aeroshell. The parachute measures 70.5 feet (21.5 m) in diameter and will be deployed at an altitude of about 7 miles (11 km) and a velocity of about 940 mph (1,512 km/h). The parachute will help slow the vehicle to about 200 mph (320 km/h). 

The Mars 2020 spacecraft is also equipped with a new parachute deployment technology called Range Trigger. This technology will help the spacecraft narrow in on its target landing area by autonomously adjusting the timing of the parachute deployment based on the spacecraft’s position and distance from its landing target.

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Sky crane landing

Perseverance’s descent stage is equipped with eight throttleable retrorockets, or Mars landing engines, which help slow the spacecraft in preparation for touchdown. The descent stage will fire up its engines during the final minute before Perseverance lands on the Red Planet to help guide the spacecraft to its landing target. 

A sky crane will then lower the rover safely to the surface using three nylon cables that extend 25 feet (7.6 m) below the descent stage. Meanwhile, the rover will stretch its legs and bring its wheels into landing position. When the rover senses its wheels have touched the ground, it will cut the cables and the descent stage will fly off and crash-land safely away from Perseverance. 

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mars 2020 perseverance

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity Mars helicopter

Perseverance launched to the Red Planet with a travel companion named Ingenuity. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is the first robotic helicopter designed to fly on another planet. Weighing 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms), Ingenuity is currently stowed beneath Perseverance’s belly. The helicopter will detach from the rover and descend to the Red Planet surface sometime between 30 and 90 days after the spacecraft touches down on Mars. Then, the helicopter will take a few pioneering test flights to prove that robotic flight is possible in the skies of another planet.

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