If everything works, starts on Thursday at 13: 50 Clock of our time in Cape Canaveral the Mars rover “Perseverance” on board an Atlas launcher to Mars (NASA website with livestream from the start here).
The 3 meter long, 2.7 meter wide and 2.2 meter high vehicle with a weight of around one ton is said to be on 18. February 2021 land on the outer neighboring planet of the Earth.
It is the fifth rover that NASA is releasing on Mars. Of the four previous rolling robots, only “Curiosity” works. Since August 2012 he has already over 22 kilometers on the Red Planet .
As the name of the new Mars vehicle shows – Perseverance means endurance – its designers apparently hope for a similarly long service life. And its task has remained essentially the same as that of its predecessors: on its forays into the surface of Mars, the rover is supposed to look for traces that indicate that life could develop on Mars in the distant past and possibly even survive in suitable niches .
Maybe life has survived in suitable niches on Mars
The starting chances for the emergence of Martian life were similar to those on Earth . About 3.5 billion years ago, Mars also had a dense atmosphere, and sloshing and flowing liquid water in lakes and rivers over its surface.
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Mars is but only half the size of the earth. Its attraction is correspondingly lower. Therefore, unlike Earth, Mars lost much of its atmosphere and water over time. It turned into a cold, dry desert planet, on which the remaining water is almost only frozen.
Perseverance should be in a 45 km-long crater called Jezero land – through it once flowed a river that fed a lake about the size of Lake Constance. In the river delta – according to geologists' expectations – diverse sediments have been deposited, in which traces of earlier microbial life forms may have been preserved.
For the study of the geological history of Mars and especially for the Searching for evidence of a possible past life, the approximately $ 2.4 billion Perseverance is better equipped than any rover before it.
A total of seven instruments are to use different methods to analyze the composition of the rocks and the soil, measure temperature, wind force, air pressure and humidity and carry out various experiments.
Bombarded the instrument “Sherloc” Rocks with ultraviolet laser light and examines the backscattered light waves. This allows you to identify minerals and any organic molecules contained in the rock.
Particularly interesting places in the rock can then be examined more closely with the high-resolution magnifying glass “Watson”. Like the two detectives in Conan Doyle's crime novels, the instrument uses forensic methods to search for biochemical or even fossil traces of past life on Mars.
Radar examinations on the planet for the first time
“Rimfax”, on the other hand, uses radar beams on Mars for the first time. The radar waves can penetrate up to ten meters deep into the Martian soil and determine the distribution of rock, ice and any liquid water that may be present.
Perseverance not only takes care of the past history of Mars, but also prepares its further exploration. Some of the soil and rock samples he excavated are filled into titanium containers, which are then to be placed in a suitable location.
There you should probably 2028 are collected by a rover from the European space agency ESA and are ultimately ultimately brought to earth in space probes that can start again from Mars.
And also the Landing of people on Mars – and probably their return to Earth – is already being prepared. The oxygen required for this as an important fuel for rocket propulsion could be produced on Mars itself.
As a small pre-test whether this is possible, Perseverance has the “Moxie” experiment on board. Like a plant on earth, moxie is said to absorb carbon dioxide from the thin Martian atmosphere and release ten grams of oxygen from it in one hour.
Perseverance largely decides on its course itself
23 cameras record all movements and experiments from Perseverance. “Mastcam-Z” will deliver the best pictures. This high-resolution camera system for stereo images is mounted on the rover's mast at a height of around two meters.
It's full 360 degree rotatable, so that it allows a complete panoramic view at any time. Interesting rocks can be zoomed in so much that you can still fly in 100 meters distance.
The cameras also enable the rover to operate as a vehicle. Based on the image analysis, it decides for itself how it rolls around rocks or turns in front of steep slopes. Because of the transit time of radio signals from Earth to Mars of up to 20 minutes from Earth would be very cumbersome.
The real-time algorithm, which is supposed to protect Perseverance from accidents and crashes, allows speeds of up to 150 meters per hour, twice as fast as all other rovers in front of him.
The first drone on Mars – “Ingenuity”
The “Ingenuity” helicopter, the Perseverance piggyback, will move even faster has with it. The drone, which weighs just 1.8 kilograms, is intended to show that flying is also possible in the thin Martian atmosphere.
The start window for a trip to Mars as short as possible of only about seven months opened due to the position of Earth and Mars on 20. July. On this day, the space probe of the United Arab Emirates “Al Amal” took off for Mars. From February 2021 it is supposed to be from an orbit around Mars whose weather and climate investigate and how the already thin atmosphere of Mars continues to flow into space.
Three days later, the Chinese space probe “Tianwen-1” also used the favorable launch window to Mars. If successful, a Chinese rover will also drive on Mars from spring 2021.
A collision with Perseverance is not to be feared, the Chinese rover is supposed to be used in the impact crater Utopia Planitia. Where, since 1976 the American space probe Viking 2 has been standing.