On February 18 of 2021, the NASA Perseverance Mars Rover landed on the dusty red planet. The journey took 7 months, after launching at the end of July in 2020 and travelling 300 million miles. It landed in and is currently in Jezero Crater, which has shown evidence to have been a lake in the past. The event was not only celebrated at NASA, but all around the world with over 1.6M views on Twitch and many more on Youtube.
The Tech Behind Perseverance
The Perseverance Rover carries new technology demonstrations aboard, which are experimental designs that are prototypes for the future. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ resource Utilization Experiment(MOXIE) is aboard the rover, and hopes to produce oxygen from the carbon-dioxide atmosphere of Mars. MOXIE is essentially a mechanical tree, inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen breathable to humans.
The Perseverance Rover also carries the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. The helicopter is still charging aboard the rover, but will go on experimental test flights in chilling conditions. Ingenuity provides an extra viewpoint from which to explore Mars, as flying vehicles can easily provide high-definition images and map out the terrain.
Along with the tech onboard the rover, many new technologies were used in launching it. Landing on Mars is hard, and landing on a specific spot is even harder. The Range Trigger was developed by the NASA team in order to precisely time the parachute that the rover used to land. When landing rovers, there are several ellipses that indicate the general area of the landing. In order to efficiently get to a region of interest that could have supported life in the past, the Range Trigger deploys the parachute based on the spacecraft’s position relative to the desired target. This lands the rover much closer to the area of study, saving scientists potentially a year of time wasted on driving to the site.
Terrain-Relative Navigation is a new technology developed and used with the rover. There are several natural hazards posed by Mars to exploration technology, such as sleep slopes and large obstacles like rocks or boulders. Terrain Relative-Navigation uses images from satellites orbiting around Mars to create a map of the landing site. The rover stores this map inside its computer, similar to a GPS. On the descent, the rover takes pictures of the surface, and cross-checks landmarks to figure out exactly where it is. With this knowledge, the rover can avoid dangerous areas and stay safe while exploring.