On Feb. 18, 2021, years of work by aerospace scientists culminated in a successful landing of the newest Mars rover Perseverance. The semi-autonomous vehicle had been traveling the solar system toward the red planet since a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket propelled it off Earth on July 30, 2020. Perseverance features several improvements over its predecessor Curiosity and has transported a helicopter to Mars that will soon attempt a flight in the Martian atmosphere.
Versatile Semi-Autonomous Robot
At roughly the size of a small car, Perseverance carries many types of equipment meant to analyze soil, search for microbes, record audio, and take pictures and video. Its robotic arm includes a coring drill. The rover carries 23 cameras.
Its semi-autonomous software represents a big advance over Curiosity. Perseverance can plan its own routes as it explores the surface and therefore cover more ground every day due to not needing to wait for instructions from Earth.
Perseverance includes an upgrade to its wheels intended to prevent the wheel wear problems experienced by Curiosity. The new rover’s wheels are 1 mm thicker and have a different tread pattern. Engineers expect the new tread design to perform well on sand and resist damage from moving across sharp rocks.
Historic Helicopter Flight Planned
Perseverance has succeeded in deploying the helicopter Ingenuity. The 2 kg helicopter has sent signals to Earth confirming its readiness to operate. Currently, Ingenuity remains connected to Perseverance which continues to charge the helicopter’s lithium batteries. Once the helicopter separates from the rover and attempts flight, it will rely on its solar panels for recharging. Should Ingenuity succeed in flight, it will represent the first controlled flight in a non-Earth atmosphere.
Are you inspired by the success of this Mars mission? What aerospace advances do think will come next?
Curiosity is about the size of a small SUV — 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall — (about 3 meters long (not including the arm), 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall), or about the height of a basketball player. It weighs 899 kg (1,982 lbs in Earth gravity; 743 lbs in Mars gravity). Features a Geology lab, rocker-bogie suspension, rock-vaporizing laser and lots of cameras and it’s mission to search areas of Mars for past or present conditions favorable for life, and conditions capable of preserving a record of life.
The prime mission lasted one Mars year or about 23 Earth months, and Curiosity continues to operate on Mars today.
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, being larger than only Mercury. In English, Mars carries the name of the Roman god of war and is often referred to as the “Red Planet“.
The latter refers to the effect of the iron oxide prevalent on Mars’s surface, which gives it a reddish appearance distinctive among the astronomical bodies visible to the naked eye. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, with surface features reminiscent of the impact craters of the Moon and the valleys, deserts and polar ice caps of Earth.