NASA’s Perseverance rover is expected to undergo a nail-biting landing sequence later this week, as the space probe prepares to enter Mars’ ultra-thin atmosphere and sharply decrease its velocity in a bid to avoid a crash-landing.
The US space agency’s most suspenseful landing to date will see the mission begin the “seven minutes of terror” on February 18 at approximately 3:48 p.m. EST, at which point Perseverance will detach from the cruise stage and deploy a massive supersonic parachute to decrease its speed.
Estimates indicate Perseverance will be traveling at about 12,100 mph upon entering the Martian atmosphere and will drop down to a walking speed of about 1.7 mph at touchdown, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The spacecraft’s dramatic change in speed will be largely reduced by the ignition of eight retrorockets aboard Perseverance.
At exactly 3:55 p.m. EST, Perseverance will be touching down in the Jezero Crater - one of the more dangerous landing sites chosen by NASA - with the help of the probe’s Terrain-Relative Navigation technology, a suite of radar modules and cameras.
“This is finally like landing with your eyes open,” Swati Mohan, the Mars 2020 guidance, navigation, and controls operations lead, said of the probe’s electronic setup. “Having this new technology really allows Perseverance to land in much more challenging terrain than Curiosity or any previous Mars mission could.”
In a recent video release detailing the landing sequences, Al Chen, NASA's entry, descent and landing lead, underscored that “surviving that seven minutes is really just the beginning” for the probe as the mission to examine the Martian surface will not kick off until the landing is a success.
"Its job - being the first leg of sample-return; to go look for those signs of past life on Mars - all that can’t start until we get Perseverance safely to the ground, and then that’s when the real mission begins," Chen said.
Although the first objective for Perseverance will be to begin transmitting its very first signals and images back to Earth from the red planet, the rover won’t be cleared to analyze Mars and begin searching for signs of life for multiple weeks.
Scientists with the JPL will spend roughly three months updating Perseverance’s system and ensuring the rover will be prepared to take its very first steps among the distant planet’s rocky terrain.
Perseverance will be NASA’s fifth rover to travel across portions of the red planet; however, it won’t be alone since China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft and the United Arab Emirate’s Hope probe will be nearby.