Endurance Mars Rover sails through the first check-out and test drives


The Perseverance Mars Rover is going through its first test and activation, beaming back around 7,000 photos to date, relieving its seven-foot robotic arm and taking a short test drive after landing after a major software upgrade, engineers said on Friday.

Robert Hogg, assistant mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Said the scientific instruments on the $ 2.4 billion rover had all been checked, along with a set of weather sensors to detect the robot’s harsh environment Keep an eye on.

“Everything is going very well on our last mission to Mars,” he said. “Perseverance did an extraordinary job in its first two weeks on the red planet. … I’m happy to report that we made our first voyage on Mars yesterday afternoon.”

Tire tracks on Mars. The cameras of the Perseverance rover captured the ribbed tracks of its six wheels in the dusty floor of the Jezero crater after a short test drive, which confirmed that the spaceship was ready to go.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The 1-ton rover made a short 13-foot drive, made a 150-degree left turn, and then retreated about eight feet.

“Our first drive went incredibly well,” said Anais Zarifian, Persistence Mobility Tester Technician. It showed a razor-sharp photo, captured by one of the rover’s 25 cameras, showing ribbed tire tracks in the Martian soil.

“You can see the wheel tracks we left on Mars,” she told reporters. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see wheel tracks, and I’ve seen a lot of them. This is just a big milestone.”

Like the Curiosity rover that landed in another Mars crater in 2012, Perseverance moves at a top speed of just 0.1 mph. Thanks to the improvements in the advanced navigation software and the camera suite, we can “drive five times faster than Curiosity and reach an average of 200 meters per day,” said Zarifian.

Persistence was lowered to the bottom of Jezero Crater on February 18 in a location now known as Octavia E. Butler Landing, named in honor of the late African American science fiction writer and Pasadena native.

Assistant project scientist Katie Stack Morgan announced the honor, saying Butler’s protagonists “embodied determination and ingenuity, which makes them perfect for the Perseverance rover mission.”

A look at layered debris marking the edge of an ancient delta that stretches across the Jezero crater. The rest of the delta is made up of sediments carried by a river that has since disappeared. The formation is a primary target in the Perseverance Rover’s search for signs of past microbial life on Mars.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The rover’s landing was coordinated by software designed for the challenges of the long, seven-month cruise to Mars and the seven-minute descent with the white knuckles to the surface. After the failure, the engineers were faced with the somewhat daunting task of flushing out the no longer needed software and loading the programming used for the surface science mission.

The software update took several days.

“This is the software that really unlocks all of the functionality Perseverance has for our surface mission,” said Hogg. “It’s about 16 megabytes, so it’s pretty small. But in operation, it has 140 tasks, all of which are performed simultaneously on the rover’s computer.

“When we did this update we had to be very careful not to have any major problems as there is no hotline to call or a way we can walk to the rover and hit the big reset button. So we were very careful and it was a great relief for the team to make it. “

Scientists are examining initial images to determine the best route from the landing site to relatively nearby cliffs that mark the eroded edge of an ancient delta where a vanished river once flowed into Jezero, possibly leaving traces of past microbial life.

Telephotos of the rover show layered, weather-resistant debris that resembles the earth’s schists and often retains organic carbon and other “biosignatures”.

Two possible routes to the delta have been identified, but the science team has not yet selected the optimal course or identified a suitable area for test flights of a $ 80 million experimental drone still attached to the rover’s belly.

A map with Octavia E. Butler’s landing site and possible paths to the edge of a delta that extends out of a river channel visible on the left. The current position of the rover is indicated by a small white circle on the right. Engineers want to make sure the rover avoids thick, sandy soil that can cause problems on the way to the delta.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

“Two weeks into the mission, we received approximately 7,000 images from the rover’s cameras, including our first views of some of the geological exploration targets that brought the rover to Jezero,” said Morgan. “We are now working with engineers to find out which route is the most efficient, safest and most scientifically interesting.”

“And then we get there at the front of the delta. From there we explore the delta and eventually meander at the mouth of the river that once entered Jezero, where we will likely deposit our very first sample depot,” added Morgan .

Persistence is the first mission to Mars specifically designed to look for evidence of past microbial life. It is equipped with a complex system that allows promising soil and rock samples to be collected and deposited on the surface, to eventually be retrieved and returned to Earth using a combination of NASA and European Space Agency spacecraft.

On Thursday, NASA announced a contract with Northrop Grumman worth up to $ 84.5 million to begin work on the propulsion system needed to keep the recovered samples after they were retrieved by another NASA operator. Put the rover into orbit around Mars. The European Space Agency is designing a spaceship that will be used towards the end of the decade to collect samples and bring them back to Earth for detailed laboratory analysis.

“This is one for the ages for JPL and NASA,” said Hogg. “While it seems like a long time ago, it will be a snap if we can bring these (samples) back to Earth for scientists around the world to analyze.”

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