Mission Mars 2020 – Perseverance rover

Sci­en­tif­ic goals of the Mars 2020 mis­sion

The Perseverance rover
The Per­se­ver­ance rover
Image 1/4, Credit: © NASA / JPL-Caltech, (artist’s impression)

The Perseverance rover

The Mars 2020 Per­se­ver­ance rover will use its robot­ic arm to ex­am­ine rocks on Mars. The six-wheeled ve­hi­cle, the size of a small car and weigh­ing just over 1000 kilo­grams, has a to­tal of sev­en in­stru­ments and 23 cam­eras on board. On its two-me­tre-high mast is, among oth­er in­stru­ments, Mast­cam-Z, a panoram­ic cam­era with stereo­scop­ic and zoom func­tions, whose sci­ence team in­cludes re­searchers from the Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR). On the arm of the rover is a fa­mous de­tec­tive duo – SHER­LOC and WAT­SON. SHER­LOC is a UV Ra­man spec­trom­e­ter with an ul­tra­vi­o­let laser, which can, among oth­er things, de­tect or­gan­ic com­pounds non-de­struc­tive­ly from a dis­tance. WAT­SON is a high-res­o­lu­tion colour cam­era for mi­cro­scope im­ages.
False colour image of the delta in Jezero Crater
False colour im­age of the delta in Jeze­ro Crater
Image 2/4, Credit: © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

False colour image of the delta in Jezero Crater

A va­ri­ety of in­ter­est­ing min­er­als have been de­tect­ed in the an­cient delta on the north-west­ern in­ner rim of the 35-kilo­me­tre-wide Jeze­ro Crater, which will be stud­ied by Per­se­ver­ance. This im­age shows a com­bi­na­tion of im­ages from two cam­era sys­tems on board NASA’s Mars Re­con­nais­sance Or­biter – high-res­o­lu­tion im­ages from the HiRISE cam­era and su­per­im­posed, colour da­ta from the CRISM spec­trom­e­ter, which re­veal the dif­fer­ent min­er­als. In ad­di­tion to the mag­ne­sium-iron sil­i­cates of the olivines, these al­so in­clude car­bon­ates (lime­stones) and clay min­er­als (weath­ered vol­canic rocks al­tered by con­tact with wa­ter). The lat­ter two min­er­al groups are known to be par­tic­u­lar­ly good at pre­serv­ing traces of life – re­ferred to as biosig­na­tures.
A first: soil samples from Mars for the laboratories on Earth
A first: soil sam­ples from Mars for the lab­o­ra­to­ries on Earth
Image 3/4, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A first: soil samples from Mars for the laboratories on Earth

For the first time, sam­ples will be col­lect­ed and pre­pared for trans­port to Earth dur­ing a Mars mis­sion. Dur­ing its jour­ney across Jeze­ro crater, the Mars 2020 rover Per­se­ver­ance will col­lect rock and soil sam­ples, which it will drill with the drilling tool on the tur­ret of Per­se­ver­ance's mo­bile in­stru­ment arm and store in cylin­dri­cal met­al tubes. The pic­ture shows a mod­el of the par­tial­ly load­ed sam­ple con­tain­er, a met­al tube for the Mar­tian rock and the cov­er of the sam­ple con­tain­er. NASA and ESA are cur­rent­ly de­vel­op­ing con­cepts for the Mars sam­ple re­turn mis­sion, which is sched­uled for the ear­ly 2030s.
Perseverance on an expedition in Jezero Crater
Per­se­ver­ance on an ex­pe­di­tion in Jeze­ro Crater
Image 4/4, Credit: © NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance on an expedition in Jezero Crater

An il­lus­tra­tion of NASA’s Per­se­ver­ance rover ex­plor­ing the in­te­ri­or of the 35-kilo­me­tre Jeze­ro im­pact crater on Mars. This il­lus­tra­tion pro­vides a good in­di­ca­tion of how tiny the small, car-sized ve­hi­cle is com­pared to its area of in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The cliffs and slopes are an artist’s im­pres­sion of the east­ern re­gion of the delta­ic sed­i­ments brought in­to Jeze­ro Crater by two in­flow chan­nels from the north­west. At the base of these sed­i­ments, Per­se­ver­ance will search for fos­silised mi­cro­bial life in the fine-grained rock lay­ers and col­lect sam­ples for lat­er trans­port to Earth.

One of the two main goals of NASA's Mars 2020 mission is to search for traces of microbial life (biosignatures) on Earth's neighbouring planet. The findings of all previous Mars missions, including ESA's Mars Express mission, suggest that the Red Planet was warmer and wetter until about 3.5 billion years ago. Water has left its mark on the surface in many ways, in the form of valleys, riverbeds, sediments or deltas. Branching valley systems similar to those on Earth indicate the existence of an earlier water cycle with precipitation. In addition, minerals containing water have been discovered, which indicate the previous existence of standing water. The NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission's Curiosity rover found that there are indeed regions on Mars that might once have been suitable for life. So, the conditions for the emergence of life seem to have been there, but whether it actually emerged is the big question that Mars 2020 is intended to address. For this purpose, the Perseverance rover is examining rocks in Jezero Crater for biosignatures. A lake once existed in the crater, and traces of microbial life could have been preserved in the sediments deposited there.

The second main objective is to collect rock samples for the first time and deposit them on Mars. These samples will be brought back to Earth for analysis on a later mission.

Another mission goal is to find out more about the climate conditions on Mars in the past. To do this, Perseverance will examine the rock layers in Jezero Crater and perhaps even in the surrounding area. This is because each rock layer contains a 'record' of the conditions that prevailed when it was formed. To do this, the rover will look for rocks that formed in water and that contain evidence of organic matter – the chemical building blocks of life.

The mission will also test key technologies that could be used to exploit natural resources in the Martian environment for life support and fuel production. In addition, the rover is measuring weather and climate parameters with its instruments to better understand environmental conditions and to be able to protect humans on Mars in the future.

Mission objectives

  • Obtain an answer to the question of whether life has ever existed on Mars
    Investigating the Martian environment and looking for signs of fossil biosignatures in the landing site environment and collecting rock samples for later analysis on Earth
  • Sample collection
    Perseverance is the first rover to bring a sample storage system to Mars, where promising samples will be collected for transport to Earth on a future mission
  • Characterisation of the landing site environment
    The rover's instruments are looking for evidence of past habitable environments where microbial life may have existed
  • Investigating the geology of Mars
    Rock layers in the crater are being studied to learn more about the geological processes that have created and changed the Martian crust and surface over time. The rover is also looking for rocks that formed in water three to four billion years ago and that contain evidence of organic matter – the chemical building blocks of life
  • Preparing for human exploration
    Testing technologies that could one day support the presence of humans on Mars
Contact
  • Elke Heinemann
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2867
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
    Contact
  • Nicole Schmitz
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Plan­e­tol­o­gy
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin
    Contact
  • Daniela Tirsch
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln
    Contact
  • Ulrich Köhler
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin
    Contact

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