NASA will launch the ‘Perseverance’ this Thursday towards Mars from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Florida (United States). The project, which had to be postponed because of the coronavirus, is part of a program that includes missions to the moon to prepare for the sending of human beings to the red planet in the future.

The expected Mars 2020 mission event was scheduled for this summer since the agency announced the project in December 2012. The spacecraft will collect samples from Mars and record sounds from the distant planet. It is expected to arrive on the red planet around February 18, 2021.

The name was chosen in a contest involving 11 million primary and secondary school students. The names of all of them, including the winner Alexander Mather’s, are recorded on the ship by an electron beam on three silicon chips the size of a fingernail and will travel into space.

Perseverance’ will take off from Florida (United States) at 7:50 am local time. NASA has prepared a website with special programming about the event the days before, during and after the expected launch. They will also broadcast the launch live from this link.

Perseverance’ will have among other missions to find traces of past microbial life on that planet and describe its climate and geology, as well as collect samples of rocks and dust to be sent later to Earth for analysis, and pave the way for future human exploration, NASA explains.

Perseverance’ is more than just a vehicle, it’s a collection of robots that work together. It consists of three distinct parts.

The first and most visible is the storage system, which measures 2 metres and has a five-jointed arm carrying a large turret with a rotating percussion drill to collect rock core and regolith samples from Mars (broken rock and dust).

The second robot looks like a small flying saucer integrated into the front of the rover. It will provide empty sample bits and tubes to the drill and then move the sample-filled tubes to the mobile chassis for evaluation and processing.

In the belly of the rover is the third part (or third robot) which is the 0.5 meter long sample handling arm (known to the team as the “T. rex arm”) that moves the sample tubes between the storage and documentation stations, as well as the bit carousel.

The goal of the mission is to collect a dozen or more samples. According to Steltzner, a NASA scientist, the procedure will be simple. “Essentially, after our rotary percussion drill takes a core sample, it will be turned around and attached to one of the four coupling cones on the bit carousel.

“Then, the drill carousel rotates that Mars-filled drill bit and a sample tube inside the rover to a location where our sample handling arm can grab it. That arm pulls the full sample tube out of the drill bit and picks it up to take an image with a camera inside the sample storage system.

After a picture is taken of the sample tube, the small robotic arm moves it to the volume evaluation station, where a stick pushes down the sample to measure its size. It is labeled, sealed and stored until it reaches Earth in future missions.

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