NASA’s Perseverance rover is expected to land at the Jezero Crater on the Red Planet, after which it will resume work to look for signs of past life.
In light of such ambitious space missions, some astro-biologists have expressed concerns about possible ‘interplanetary contamination’.
Perseverance was launched on July 30, 2020 during the window when Mars and Earth were the closest to each other.
This window is important since the two planets orbit around the Sun at different speeds and every two years, the planets are in a position where they are the closest to each other.
Space agencies look to launch their spacecraft during this window since the closer distance means using less rocket fuel.
Perseverance rover is using a nuclear-powered system. It will become the first rover to use domestically produced plutonium created by national laboratories in the US.
The rover will be powered by a generator that will convert heat generated by the natural decay of plutonium-238 into electricity, which will keep the rover and its tools running once it lands on Mars.
Cost of mission
NASA is estimated to spend $2.7 billion on the mission, which includes spacecraft development, launch operations, and the costs of maintaining operations once it lands on Mars.
Using plutonium-238 as fuel has driven up the cost of the mission since nuclear material is linked to elevated environmental and safety regulations.
Entry, descent, and landing (EDL), is what the most intense phase of the Mars 2020 mission is called. A number of things need to go right for its success.
The challenge here for the rover is to decrease its speed from roughly 20,000 km per hour to zero and at the same time land on a narrow surface on the crater.
While it is descending through the atmosphere, the spacecraft will need to fire off small thrusters to stay on course, since it can be nudged off course because of small pockets of air with varying densities.
Role of perseverance
Perseverance will spend one Mars year (two years on Earth) on the planet during which it will explore the landing site region.
The Jezero crater where it will land was once the site of an ancient river delta. Scientists know this because of evidence collected during previous landed and orbital missions.
The rover is carrying with it seven instruments, which include an advanced camera system with the ability to zoom, a SuperCam, which is an instrument that will provide imaging and chemical composition analysis, and a spectrometer.
One of the most interesting instruments aboard the rover is called MOXIE, which will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The rover will also carry Ingenuity, the first helicopter to fly on Mars. This will help collect samples from the surface from locations where the rover cannot reach.