WHY PERSEVERANCE ROVER IS THE FLAGSHIP MISSION OF NASA
Mars 2020 in-depth Description
If anyone knows anything about exploring the landscape of Mars, it’s NASA. NASA has a long history of sending rovers to Mars. This mission is NASA’s flagship rover mission, also this the most sophisticated vehicle from NASA. Each mission is better than the last also each one is expensive than the last. Their previous four rovers have traveled on the surface of Mars exploring it and gathering data along the way.
Except now scientists want more than to just look at Mars, they want a piece of it. As a result, NASA is sending the most advanced rover yet. It’s the first step in a series of proposed missions over a span of a decade. They have chosen a place called Jezero (crater) to do science. The crater is a remarkable 45 Km diameter crater that was potentially filled with water had a river in a key timeframe in Mars’ history. The rover will have a mission duration of 1 Martian year or roughly 2 Earth years.
Essentially, scientists want the vehicle to be an extension of themselves. What would a researcher on Mars want to see, feel, and even hear? This is why this time the rover is sent with a microphone to listen for any happenings on Mars. And “hearing” is just one of the incredible things that the rover is able to do.
Perseverance is landing on the surface of Mars on the 18th of February 2021.
PERSEVERANCE AT A GLANCE
1. Ingenuity ( The Helicopter)
It will the first time when we are sending a helicopter to another planet. Also, this will be the first powered flight on another planet. The main purpose of this mission is to demonstrate the technology that we can fly on Mars and not make scientific discoveries. Also, it lays a foundation for future flight on another planet. It can take high-resolution imagery as compared to an orbiting spacecraft in space.
Each flight of the helicopter will last about 90 seconds, with the helicopter being solar-powered, charging in the day, and work in the night while doing 1 flight a day. The capacity of the battery is about 35 to 40 watt-hours, and all that battery is not just used for flying, it has to survive in the freezing Mars climate at night so it needs to warm itself. Approximately 2 thirds the battery is used in keeping the internals warm.
Flying a helicopter on Mars is not as easy as it sounds because for any helicopter to stay in the air it has to produce lift, it does that through its rotating blades but Mars’ atmosphere has 1% the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere. Any helicopter flying in the atmosphere at the surface of Mars is equivalent to 100,000 feet flying on the surface of the Earth. The record height for any helicopter is about 40,000 feet which means the helicopter on Mars has to both of the two things mentioned below:-
1. It has to rotate at a higher RPM than usual.
2. The weight of the helicopter should be very light.
One advantage of flying on Mars is that gravity is only 38% of what it is on Earth. So by making the rotor spin 5 times faster can do the trick. The rotor can spin up to 2,900 RPM as compared to a typical helicopter which rotates at only 500 RPM.
Spinning fast also creates a problem as the rotors may break the sound barrier which enables it to enter a territory of much funky aerodynamic stuff. So the speed is kept below 0.7 Mach (70% of the speed of sound). And the weight of the helicopter is about 1.8 Kg (less than 4 pounds). The blades are a foam core with carbon fiber layup, each weighing about 35 grams, for a total of 70 grams.
It has an onboard gyro, an accelerometer, cameras, an altimeter, and an inclinometer and so using that sensor suite real-time measurement against the rough terrain is made continuously at hundreds of hertz. If you see any video of its successful flight, just know that these sensors are working very hard and very fast just to make sure it remains stable in the air.
How do you deal with deploying it on Mars? The short answer is that it is going to stowed underneath the rover in the belly pan and after several sequences of deploying explosives later, it will be rotated right side up and drop us on the surface. Then once it is deployed, the rover drives over it and when it goes 100 meters away the helicopter can take flight.
2. Super Cam
It is a device present on the rover that has the ability to shoot lasers at rocks and vaporize them to produce plasma, which the spectrometer can then analyze and listen to it. Scientists are working to understand what the sound can tell us about the properties of the rocks just by listening to the sound created by vaporizing rocks. In that, we might also learn about the atmosphere through which sound has traveled and also the laser has to travel through.
Basically, it is a laser that can zap the rocks a few meters away and tell you what they are made of, with the addition of a microphone which will allow us to hear the rocks getting zapped.
It has 23 cameras onboard to see everything happening in its surrounding.
For a complete guide on all the cameras present on rover: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/rover/cameras/
IMPROVEMENT OVER CURIOSITY ROVER
1. A Dedicated Computer
This time Mars 2020 has a dedicated computer for the movement of the rover. As this was a limiting factor in exploring the full potential of the previous rovers. Every step of the Curiosity needed examining before operating which took time and unnecessarily slowed the rover down and this was a bit dangerous as an improper movement caused the previous Spirit rover to get stuck and once Curiosity also got stuck but was able to free itself.
The new software has been designed to keep the rover going and it will be updated throughout the mission of Mars 2020 mission. This allows the rover to manage its daily activity more efficiently and productively. It will allow Perseverance to cover more ground without consulting controllers on Earth so frequently.
2. Improved Wheel Design
The previous rover Curiosity had its wheel made up from thin sheets of aluminum with titanium at the core and it spelled JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Morse code on touching the surface but it had a major design flaw as the wheel got pierced by the razor-sharp rock on the surface of the Mars. But not everything was bad about it as it gave more traction while climbing the slopes of the mountain.
As a result of that, Perseverance will have a more robust design with thicker walls and it is made up of the exotic material “titanium”. They are also a bit wider and have a larger diameter this time around. A series of titanium spokes will improve internal support as well.
SPECIALITY OF PERSEVERANCE
- The PRESERVERANCE is designed to collect the Martian soil sample and return them to Earth on future missions by the 2030s. The rover has specially designed super clean tubes to collect those samples and keep them intact and preserved in their present state until the return journey. The extended hand of the rover is responsible for collecting the samples. There are 43 tubes and scientists hope to bring back about 37 considering all the possibilities.
The samples have to be super clean to avoid the risk of introducing our own Earth particles to the samples when we touch them. Instead of finding Mars particles, we would be finding Earth particles by mistake. So, it has to be in a quarantined condition for a while.
- SHERLOC- It stands for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organic & Chemicals. It enables non-contact, spatially resolved, and high sensitivity detection and characterization of organics and minerals in the Martian surface and near subsurface. The main goal of the instrument is to assess past aqueous history, detect the presence and perseverance of potential biosignatures, and support the selection of return samples. To do this SHERLOC measures minerals, the distribution, and types of organics preserved at the surface and correlates them to textural features.