24. July 2020
Launch of Mars 2020 scheduled for 30 July 2020

NASA’s Mars 2020 mis­sion will search for traces of past mi­cro­bial life with the Per­se­ver­ance rover

NASA's Mars rover Perseverance
NASA's Mars rover Per­se­ver­ance
Image 1/9, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars rover Perseverance

Artist's im­pres­sion of the Mars rover Per­se­ver­ance of the NASA Mars 2020 mis­sion, which will land in Jeze­ro Crater on 18 Febru­ary 2021. There, it will search for traces of life (so-called biosig­na­tures). For the first time, soil and rock sam­ples will al­so be col­lect­ed and de­posit­ed on the sur­face of Mars to be col­lect­ed and re­turned to Earth in the ear­ly 2030s by a lat­er joint NASA-ESA mis­sion. Per­se­ver­ance has a mass of 1025 kilo­grams, which ex­erts a weight force of al­most 350 kilo­grams on Mars. The rover is ap­prox­i­mate­ly three me­tres long, 2.7 me­tres wide, and has a robot­ic arm with a reach of 2.1 me­tres. The en­vi­ron­ment will be ob­served with the cam­eras on the mast, at a height of about two me­tres.
Mars helicopter ‘Ingenuity’
Mars he­li­copter ‘In­ge­nu­ity’
Image 2/9, Credit: © NASA / JPL-Caltech, (artist’s impression)

Mars helicopter ‘Ingenuity’

For the first time in the his­to­ry of space ex­plo­ration, the Mars 2020 mis­sion is car­ry­ing a fly­ing ma­chine. The he­li­copter In­ge­nu­ity, weigh­ing on­ly 1800 grams, will au­tonomous­ly rise to five me­tres above the Per­se­ver­ance land­ing site in the thin Mar­tian at­mo­sphere and ac­quire im­ages of its sur­round­ings. Tests on Earth have shown that this will be pos­si­ble with the ul­tra-light he­li­copter drone even in the Mar­tian at­mo­sphere, which is more than one hun­dred times thin­ner than on Earth. The wingspan of the ro­tor blades is 120 cen­time­tres, and they will ro­tate at 2400 rev­o­lu­tions per minute. The pow­er of 350 watts dur­ing the ini­tial­ly planned five demon­stra­tion flights will be sup­plied by so­lar cells and lithi­um-ion bat­ter­ies.
Mars rover Perseverance and helicopter Ingenuity
Mars rover Per­se­ver­ance and he­li­copter In­ge­nu­ity
Image 3/9, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltec

Mars rover Perseverance and helicopter Ingenuity

On 18 Febru­ary 2021, NASA's Mars 2020 rover Per­se­ver­ance and the Mars he­li­copter In­ge­nu­ity will land in Jeze­ro crater. Per­se­ver­ance is the most com­plex rover that NASA has ev­er sent to Mars. In­ge­nu­ity, a tech­nol­o­gy demon­stra­tion, will be the first fly­ing craft to at­tempt a con­trolled flight on an­oth­er plan­et. The 50-cen­time­tre-tall he­li­copter drone is at­tached to the un­der­side of Per­se­ver­ance and will be low­ered to the ground. Per­se­ver­ance will move a few me­tres away and fol­low the flight demon­stra­tion with the rover cam­eras.
Mars robot Perseverance – a high-tech laboratory on wheels
Mars robot Per­se­ver­ance – a high-tech lab­o­ra­to­ry on wheels
Image 4/9, Credit: @ NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars robot Perseverance – a high-tech laboratory on wheels

The Mars rover Per­se­ver­ance has sev­en sci­en­tif­ic in­stru­ment groups on board to col­lect in­for­ma­tion about the ge­ol­o­gy, the en­vi­ron­ment and the at­mo­sphere at the land­ing site, but above all to find traces of life (biosig­na­tures) that might be present in the sed­i­ments in Jeze­ro Crater. De­tailed in­for­ma­tion on the ex­per­i­ments can be found on the mis­sion’s web­site. DLR sci­en­tists are in­volved in analysing da­ta from the Mast­cam-Z (Mast Cam­era, Zoom) stereo cam­era and the Su­per­Cam spec­trom­e­ter.
A first: soil samples from Mars for the laboratories on Earth
A first: soil sam­ples from Mars for the lab­o­ra­to­ries on Earth
Image 5/9, 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.
False colour image of the delta in Jezero Crater
False colour im­age of the delta in Jeze­ro Crater
Image 6/9, 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.
The Mars 2020 mission team
Part of the Mars 2020 mis­sion team
Image 7/9, Credit: ©NASA/JPL-Caltech

Part of the Mars 2020 mission team

A year ago, on 17 Ju­ly 2019, sev­er­al hun­dred en­gi­neers, tech­ni­cians, sci­en­tists and man­agers in­volved in the Mars 2020 mis­sion gath­ered for a group pic­ture in front of the main build­ing at NASA's Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­to­ry (JPL). Mars 2020, with the rover Per­se­ver­ance and the he­li­copter drone In­ge­nu­ity, is one of the most com­plex projects in the his­to­ry of Mars ex­plo­ration, if not the So­lar Sys­tem. JPL in north­west Los An­ge­les looks back on a great tra­di­tion of epoch-mak­ing mis­sions built and op­er­at­ed there for NASA, such as the first Mars land­ings in 1976 with Viking 1 and 2 or the large space probes Voy­ager, Galileo or Cassi­ni. The pre­de­ces­sor of Mars 2020, the rover Cu­rios­i­ty, which land­ed on Mars in 2012, was al­so built at JPL and has been con­trolled from there ev­er since.
Mars 2020 ready for launch
Mars 2020 be­ing pre­pared for launch
Image 8/9, Credit: NASA

Mars 2020 being prepared for launch

Packed and pro­tect­ed in the land­ing cap­sule with its near­ly five-me­tre-di­am­e­ter con­i­cal heat shield, the Mars 2020 mis­sion with the rover Per­se­ver­ance 'sees' earth­ly day­light for the last time: the cas­ings of the 'fair­ing', which will soon be closed, can be seen. The fair­ing will be at the top of the At­las V launch ve­hi­cle at launch. The launch ve­hi­cle, up­per stage, fu­el and pay­load have a mass of 531 tonnes, the Per­se­ver­ance rover of 1025 kilo­grams. Mars 2020 is ex­pect­ed to launch from Cape Canaver­al in Flori­da on 30 Ju­ly at 13:50 CEST. The land­ing in Jeze­ro crater is sched­uled for 18 Febru­ary 2021.
Landing sites of Mars missions
Land­ing sites of Mars mis­sions
Image 9/9, Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS-MOLA;DLR

Landing sites of Mars missions

This glob­al to­po­graph­i­cal map of Mars shows all land­ings on Mars to date: Mars 3, a Mars mis­sion of the USSR, land­ed on Mars on 2 De­cem­ber 1971. Al­though it is the first 'soft' land­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion broke off just 20 sec­onds af­ter first con­tact from the sur­face. For this rea­son, NASA's Viking 1 mis­sion is con­sid­ered the first suc­cess­ful land­ing. It touched down on 20 Ju­ly 1976 in the Chryse Plani­tia plain, fol­lowed by its sis­ter probe Viking 2, which land­ed in Utopia Plani­tia on 3 Septem­ber 1976; both mis­sions were sta­tion­ary. Mars Pathfind­er was the first rover, the first ve­hi­cle on Mars, and land­ed on the US Na­tion­al Day, 4 Ju­ly 1997. 2004 saw the launch of two more larg­er rovers, Spir­it and Op­por­tu­ni­ty. On 6 Au­gust 2012 the largest Mars ve­hi­cle to date, Cu­rios­i­ty, land­ed on Mars. Like Viking, Phoenix (2008) and In­Sight (2018) are sta­tion­ary mis­sions. Mars 2020 will land in the Jeze­ro Crater with the rover Per­se­ver­ance on 18 Febru­ary 2021. On 23 Ju­ly 2020, an­oth­er lan­der mis­sion was launched to the Red Plan­et, the Chi­nese mis­sion Tian­wen 1, whose land­ing site has not yet been fi­nal­ly de­ter­mined.
  • Seven scientific instruments are integrated into the rover, which is the size of a small car
  • The camera will provide 360-degree panoramas in 3D and in colour, with DLR involvement in data evaluation
  • 1.8-kilogram helicopter drone for first test flights in the thin Martian atmosphere on board
  • Mission target Jezero crater was home to a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago
  • Focus: Space, exploration, Mars

With Perseverance, its most complex Mars rover to date, NASA is opening a new chapter in the search for traces of ancient life on Mars. The launch of the new rover is scheduled to take place on 30 July 2020 at 13:50 CEST on board an Atlas V launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Then, on 18 February 2021 it will land in Mars’ Jezero crater. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is represented on the Mars 2020 mission science team and is involved in evaluating the data and images. The aim of the mission is to use analyse rock and sediment samples to determine more precisely when Mars may have had ideal conditions for microorganisms to thrive.

When the Perseverance rover lands on Mars in 2021, it will be carrying containers for sample collection. These containers will be filled with drill cores from depths of up to a few centimetres and left on Mars for later return to Earth. The samples will then be transported to Earth by several follow-up missions scheduled to begin in the early 2030s. The rover, which is the size of a small car and has a mass of 1025 kilograms, carries a total of seven scientific instruments, with which it will analyse the geology of the landing site, search for signs of past microbial life in rocks and sediments, and find the most promising samples for subsequent analysis on Earth. To this end, the Mars 2020 mission is carrying another first: a small, 1.8-kilogram helicopter for initial test flights over the landing site in the thin Martian atmosphere.

3D and colour Martian panoramas

"We are very pleased to be part of the science team on this extraordinary mission to Mars," says Nicole Schmitz from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research. "We are particularly excited for the first images taken after landing. With these, we will be able to see the landing site and the nearly four billion-year-old river delta for the first time from the perspective of the rover’s Mastcam-Z camera.” The image processing for the Mastcam-Z (Mast Camera Zoom) stereo camera builds on the many years of expertise acquired by DLR's Berlin-based planetary researchers through their work with camera technology on missions such as Mars Express, Dawn, MASCOT/Hayabusa2 and Philae/Rosetta.

"The two scientific eyes of Perseverance, for spatial orientation and mineralogical analysis, are located on the rover’s 'head' on the prominent mast,” explains Frank Preusker from the DLR Institute for Planetary Research. "Together, they will deliver 360-degree panoramas in 3D and in colour." With its powerful zoom, Mastcam-Z can reveal features as small as a house fly – all the way from a distance about the length of a football pitch. Arizona State University is responsible for scientific management of Mastcam-Z. The Perseverance rover has a total of 23 cameras, more than any other interplanetary mission to date.

Rock analysis under the laser beam

The SuperCam spectrometer is also located on the mast of the rover, directly beside the two eyes of the stereo camera. This instrument allows contactless analysis of the chemical composition and mineralogy of the rover’s surroundings. "Like its predecessor 'ChemCam' on the Mars rover Curiosity, the spectrometer uses a pulsed laser to investigate the geochemistry of rocks and soil. It also uses three other spectroscopic techniques and a microphone to investigate the mineral content and hardness of the rock,” explains Susanne Schröder from the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems in Berlin, who is a member of the scientific team and is mainly involved in data analysis using laser spectroscopy. The SuperCam is scientifically managed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and IRAP/CNES in Toulouse, France.

The Mars 2020 landing site in the HRSC terrain model
The Mars 2020 landing site in the HRSC terrain model
Since 2004, the DLR-operated High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) has been acquiring high-resolution, colour and 3D photographs of Mars on board the ESA Mars Express spacecraft. The digital terrain models calculated from these images support the selection of the landing site and the development of the navigation systems for the landing of the Mars 2020 mission. The image shows the topography of the approximately 45-kilometre-diameter crater Jezero, its crater rim, which is about 1000 metres high, and the plain of Nili Planum. The NASA rover Perseverance is scheduled to land in the ellipse.
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

A river delta and a lake in a crater

Perseverance will land in Jezero crater, located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator at approximately 18 degrees latitude, 77 degrees longitude. Some of the oldest and scientifically most interesting landscapes that Mars has to offer are found west of Isidis. High-resolution digital terrain models derived from data obtained by DLR's High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft have made a significant contribution to the selection and exploration of the landing site. From them, valuable geological data can be calculated, such as the volume of the crater and the delta, as well as the width, depth and gradient of the river, but also the terrain slope within the landing ellipse - one of the most important factors in the selection of the landing site.

It is very likely that the 45-kilometre-wide Jezero Crater was home to a lake more than 3.5 billion years ago. The ancient river delta in the western part of the crater, which contains hydrous minerals such as clay, provides clear evidence. This is also where the crater gets its name: ‘Jezero’ means ‘lake’ in several Slavic languages. Scientists believe it is possible that the rivers that flowed into and out of Jezero carried organic molecules, other potential signs of microbial life, or perhaps even microorganisms themselves. Traces of this possible past microbial life could have been preserved in the deposits of the river delta or the lake sediments of Jezero crater and could be found there today. Today, the liquid water on the surface of Mars has disappeared and its atmosphere has thinned to less than one percent of Earth's atmospheric pressure.

Frequent visitors to Mars

Perseverance is now the fifth rover that NASA has sent to Mars. In 1997, Sojourner landed on the Red Planet as part of the Mars Pathfinder mission and sent data and images back to Earth for around three months. This was followed in 2004 by the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which for the first time covered great distances until Martian winter ended communication with Spirit in 2007 and then finally with Opportunity because of a dust storm in 2018. The Curiosity rover, in many respects identical in construction to Perseverance, landed in 2012 and remains active in Gale crater today. In 2018, the most recent landing platform arrived on Mars. The InSight lander is a geophysical laboratory designed to explore the interior of the planet using, among other things, DLR's Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP³), which includes the self-hammering thermal probe known as the Mars ‘Mole’. NASA’s Perseverance rover is initially designed for a mission duration of one Mars year (roughly two Earth years) with the option of extending the mission.

Another rover is scheduled to embark on a journey to the Red Planet to search for traces of past microbial life during the next launch window to Mars in 2022. As part of the ExoMars programme of ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the Rosalind Franklin rover will extract samples from a depth of up to two metres and perform high-precision analyses for biosignatures. At depth, organic compounds are better protected against destruction by cosmic radiation. DLR is contributing a substantial portion of Rosalind Franklin’s scientific payload: A high-resolution camera on the mast of the rover will enable scientists to analyse a variety of different rock types and determine the optimal locations for drilling.

  • Falk Dambowsky
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3959
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
  • Nicole Schmitz
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin
  • Frank Preusker
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search, Plan­e­tary Geodesy
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-446

  • Dr. rer. nat. Susanne Schröder
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Op­ti­cal Sen­sor Sys­tems
    LIBS - and Ra­man Spec­troscopy
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin-Adlershof

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