23. February 2021
NASA's Perseverance rover to search for traces of past life on Mars

Pre­ci­sion land­ing on Mars on 18 Febru­ary – trans­mit­ting im­ages and sound

NASA: Mastcam-Z Looks at Its Calibration Target
Mast­cam-Z Looks at Its Cal­i­bra­tion Tar­get
Image 1/9, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS/NBI-UCPH

Mastcam-Z Looks at Its Calibration Target

Mast­cam-Z, a pair of zoomable cam­eras aboard NASA’s Per­se­ver­ance rover, im­aged its cal­i­bra­tion tar­get for the first time on Feb. 20, 2021, the sec­ond Mar­tian day, or sol, of Per­se­ver­ance’s mis­sion. Vis­i­ble in this nat­u­ral-col­or com­pos­ite are the Mast­cam-Z pri­ma­ry-col­or and grayscale cal­i­bra­tion tar­get (the col­or­ful cir­cu­lar ob­ject at right fore­ground) as well as the cam­era's sec­ondary cal­i­bra­tion tar­get (the small col­or­ful L-brack­et just be­low the pri­ma­ry tar­get). The Mast­cam-Z team us­es these tar­gets to cal­i­brate im­ages of the Mar­tian ter­rain to ad­just for changes in bright­ness and dust in the at­mo­sphere through­out the day.
Perseverance landing – the sky crane manoeuvre
Per­se­ver­ance land­ing – the sky crane ma­noeu­vre
Image 2/9, Credit: © NASA / JPL-Caltech, (artist’s impression)

Perseverance landing – the sky crane manoeuvre

The Per­se­ver­ance rover, which weighs more than a tonne and is sus­pend­ed with three ny­lon cords, will be pre­cise­ly low­ered by a ‘sky crane’ on­to its land­ing site in Jeze­ro Crater from a height of 7.6 me­tres at the end of a sev­en-minute de­scent phase. A land­ing ma­noeu­vre with airbags, a pro­ce­dure used for pre­vi­ous land­ings on Mars, is no longer prac­ti­cal due to the rover’s mass. NASA’s pre­de­ces­sor rover, Cu­rios­i­ty, al­so land­ed safe­ly in Gale Crater in 2012 us­ing this new pro­ce­dure. The pro­ce­dure has been im­proved for the Mars 2020 mis­sion.
Landing sequence
Land­ing se­quence
Image 3/9, Credit: © NASA / JPL-Caltech

Landing sequence

The En­try, De­scent and Land­ing (EDL) se­quence be­gins when the space­craft reach­es the up­per­most lay­er of the Mar­tian at­mo­sphere, en­ter­ing Mars’ gaseous en­ve­lope at a speed of al­most 20,000 kilo­me­tres per hour. At such high speeds, the land­ing cap­sule heats up to 1300 de­grees Cel­sius ; this means the Per­se­ver­ance rover must be pro­tect­ed by a thick heat shield. The land­ing ma­noeu­vre ends about sev­en min­utes lat­er, when Per­se­ver­ance stands on the sur­face of Mars. This pro­ce­dure is com­plete­ly au­to­mat­ed, as it takes more than 11 min­utes to send a ra­dio sig­nal from Mars to Earth. By the time that the con­trol cen­tre at NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­to­ry in Pasade­na, Cal­i­for­nia, re­ceives the sig­nal that the space­craft has en­tered the at­mo­sphere, the rover will al­ready be on the ground. Be­cause the mis­sion con­trollers do not know for so long whether ev­ery­thing has gone to plan and they have no in­flu­ence on what hap­pens, the EDL phase is some­times re­ferred to as the ‘sev­en min­utes of ter­ror’.
Structure of the descent stage
Struc­ture of the de­scent stage
Image 4/9, Credit: © NASA/JPL-Caltech

Structure of the descent stage

The rover, lan­der and back shell are equipped with cam­eras to ac­cu­rate­ly doc­u­ment the en­try, de­scent and land­ing stages of the mis­sion. This im­age shows the po­si­tion of the four cam­eras and a mi­cro­phone on the three el­e­ments. The mi­cro­phone will record sounds dur­ing the de­scent through the Mar­tian at­mo­sphere and trans­mit them to Earth. The cam­eras will al­low both the open­ing of the parachutes and the sep­a­ra­tion of the de­scent stage to be record­ed ac­cu­rate­ly with the up­ward-fac­ing cam­era, as well as the set­ting down of the rover and the land­ing site with the down­ward-fac­ing cam­era.
Mars 2020 landing ellipse in Jezero Crater
Mars 2020 land­ing el­lipse in Jeze­ro Crater
Image 5/9, Credit: © ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin

Mars 2020 landing ellipse in Jezero Crater

This im­age shows the north­west of the 35-kilo­me­tre-wide Jeze­ro Crater north of the Mar­tian equa­tor with the re­mains of an an­cient delta, near which the Mars rover Per­se­ver­ance will land on 18 Febru­ary 2021 at 21:55 CET (sig­nal ar­rival on Earth). The delta was formed by sed­i­ments car­ried along by a riv­er that flowed in­to the crater from the west and whose dried-up val­ley is still clear­ly vis­i­ble to­day. Here, the Per­se­ver­ance rover will search for fos­sil mi­cro­bial life and col­lect sam­ples for lat­er trans­port to Earth. The im­age was ac­quired by DLRs High Res­o­lu­tion Stereo Cam­era (HRSC) on board ESA’s Mars Ex­press space­craft.
The Perseverance rover
The Per­se­ver­ance rover
Image 6/9, 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.
The helicopter drone Ingenuity
The he­li­copter drone In­ge­nu­ity
Image 7/9, Credit: © NASA / JPL-Caltech, (artist’s impression)

The helicopter drone Ingenuity

A com­plete nov­el­ty in space ex­plo­ration – for the first time, a he­li­copter will as­cend from an­oth­er ce­les­tial body and test if and how it is pos­si­ble to fly in the thin Mar­tian at­mo­sphere. The small drone, weigh­ing on­ly 1800 grams, has two con­traro­tat­ing ro­tors, each with a span of 120 cen­time­tres. Its name, In­ge­nu­ity, fits well with the suc­cess­es that could be achieved with this tech­no­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment. Fu­ture ap­pli­ca­tions for this tech­nol­o­gy might in­clude ex­plor­ing pre­vi­ous­ly in­ac­ces­si­ble ar­eas, such as caves or ter­rain that are not ac­ces­si­ble us­ing a rover.
Mastcam-Z – high-resolution stereo camera with zoom function
Mast­cam-Z – high-res­o­lu­tion stereo cam­era with zoom func­tion
Image 8/9, Credit: © NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mastcam-Z – high-resolution stereo camera with zoom function

The rover’s main ‘eyes’ are at the top of its two-me­tre-high mast. The large round lens of the Su­per­Cam, a com­bi­na­tion of cam­era, laser and spec­trom­e­ter that can be used to study the chem­i­cal and min­er­alog­i­cal com­po­si­tion of rocks from a dis­tance, is strik­ing. The two, small, square, black lens­es be­low be­long to Mast­cam-Z, a panoram­ic cam­era with stereo and zoom func­tions that are used both for sci­en­tif­ic pur­pos­es and for nav­i­gat­ing the rover. DLR re­searchers are rep­re­sent­ed in the sci­ence teams of both in­stru­ments.
Perseverance on an expedition in Jezero Crater
Per­se­ver­ance on an ex­pe­di­tion in Jeze­ro Crater
Image 9/9, 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.
  • The rover, which is the size of a small car, is equipped with seven scientific instruments, including a camera that will provide 360-degree panoramas in 3D and in colour. DLR is involved with data and image evaluation.
  • The 3.9-billion-year-old Jezero Crater once contained a lake. At the mouth of two inflow channels, deltas formed from sediments. Microbial life may once have existed in these deposits.
  • For the first time in the history of space exploration, Mars samples are being collected for later return to Earth.
  • In another first, a helicopter drone will ascend from Mars's surface into its thin atmosphere.
  • An overview of all the livestreams related to the landing can be found here: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/timeline/landing/watch-online/
  • Focus: Space, exploration, Mars

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Watch NASA's Perseverance Rover Land | Video from Mars!
New video from NASA’s Perseverance rover chronicles major milestones during the final minutes of its entry, descent and landing on the Red Planet on Feb. 18 as the spacecraft plummeted, parachuted, and rocketed toward the surface of Mars.

On 18 February 2021, NASA will initiate the most precise landing ever attempted on the Red Planet. A spacecraft with the Perseverance rover on board will enter the Martian atmosphere at around 21:38 (CET) at just under 19,500 kilometres per hour. Within seven crucial minutes, the spacecraft will decelerate to zero using its heat shield, parachute and braking thrusters to set the rover – suspended with cords – down in Jezero Crater at 21:45 (CET). Because the signal will take about 11 minutes to reach Earth from Mars, confirmation of the landing will arrive at NASA's control centre at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California) at 21:55 (CET) at the earliest. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is represented on the Mars 2020 mission science team and will be involved in the evaluation of the data and images. Perseverance will search for signs of past life and collect rock samples that will eventually be returned to Earth by follow-up missions.

During the landing, sounds and high-resolution video recordings will be transmitted to Earth for the first time. NASA's most complex rover to date carries more cameras than any other interplanetary mission in the history of space exploration. There are 19 on the rover itself, plus four on other parts of the spacecraft that will collect footage of the entry, descent and landing. After landing and system checks, the first exploration of the surroundings will begin immediately. The 3D camera Mastcam-Z is programmed to record, process and transmit the first 360-degree panorama in 3D and in colour from a two-metre-high mast. All system components will then be tested over a period of several days before the scientific mission begins.

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DLR planetary research and NASA's Mars 2020 mission
For decades, Mars has played an important role in the Solar System research activities of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). It has become increasingly clear that Earth’s neighbour in space shared more similarities with Earth in its early days than it does today. It is therefore considered to be the...

DLR is contributing a wide range of scientific expertise

"During the first few weeks, the panorama will give us a view of a very special landscape – sediments in a former, ancient crater lake on Mars with a well-preserved river delta. Traces of past life could be found in its fine-grained deposits," says Nicole Schmitz from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin. "From the very beginning, we have also had data processing tasks in the science team," adds Frank Preusker from the same Institute. "Most notably, we will use our many years of experience in processing stereo image data into digital terrain models." At maximum zoom, the camera can make objects the size of a housefly visible across the length of a football field in individual images. The scientific management of Mastcam-Z is carried out by Arizona State University.

Mars robot Perseverance - high-tech laboratory on wheels
Mars robot Perseverance – high-tech laboratory on wheels
The Mars rover Perseverance has seven scientific instrument groups on board to gather information about the geology, environment and atmosphere at the landing site, but above all to find traces of ancient life (biosignatures) that might be present in the sediments at Jezero Crater. Detailed information about the experiments can be found on the mission site. DLR scientists are involved in the evaluation of data from the Mastcam-Z stereo camera (Mast Camera, Zoom) and the SuperCam spectrometer.
Credit: @ NASA/JPL-Caltech

Susanne Schröder from the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems in Berlin is involved in analysing measurements from the SuperCam instrument. Led by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and IRAP/CNES in Toulouse (France), SuperCam makes it possible to determine the chemical composition and mineralogy of rocks, sand and dust in the rover's vicinity using lasers and without contact. Perseverance carries a total of seven scientific instruments. Scientists Jean-Pierre de Vera, Andreas Lorek and Stephen Garland from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research will be involved in the analysis of data from the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instrument. MEDA uses a series of sensors to measure temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and the size and shape of dust particles. The scientific management of MEDA lies with the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid (Spain).

NASA is breaking new technological ground with a helicopter drone named Ingenuity. For the first time in the history of space exploration, an aircraft carried from Earth will ascend from the surface of another planet into its atmosphere, attempt a controlled flight over the area and land again to repeat the experiment several times. Mars has less than one-hundredth of the atmospheric pressure on Earth, so Ingenuity had to be built to be extremely lightweight with very large, extremely fast-rotating rotor blades. The drone has a mass of 1800 grams and the rotor blades have a span of 120 centimetres. A miniature camera will provide images from a height of 10 to 15 metres.

Floating precisely to the surface suspended with nylon cords

During entry into the Martian atmosphere, the spacecraft's protective shield will heat up to around 1300 degrees Celsius in three minutes. The 21.5-metre-diameter supersonic parachute will unfold about four minutes after entry at an altitude of approximately 11 kilometres and a descent speed of 1512 kilometres per hour. Twenty seconds after the parachute unfolds, the heat shield will be jettisoned and fall away, so that for the rest of the descent, a radar and cameras can compare information obtained in real time with stored maps and terrain models. A novel autopilot system will analyse possible landing sites in real time and compare them with the current position of the spacecraft to determine the final landing site on the surface of Mars. Until now it has never been possible to select the most accessible and – above all – safe landing target with such precision.

Approximately 2.1 kilometres above the ground at a descent speed of around 300 kilometres per hour, the hull will be jettisoned with the parachute and the landing thrusters will ignite. These will steer the spacecraft to the selected landing site and slow it down to 2.7 kilometres per hour at 20 metres above the surface. At this point, the landing stage will initiate the 'sky crane manoeuvre'. After unfolding its six wheels, the rover, which is the size of a small car and weighs 1025 kilograms, will be lowered from the 'sky crane', 7.6 metres below the landing stage on three unspooling nylon cords. When Perseverance reports ground contact and has landed in Jezero Crater, pyrotechnic cutters will sever the cords. The propulsion unit, which will remain airborne, will fly away before impacting the Martian surface at a safe distance. As a result of the signal transit times from Mars to Earth, the control centre at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California will receive all status signals with a delay of approximately 11 minutes and will not be able to intervene in the automated landing procedure. During the landing phase, the 100-metre antenna operated by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy will be used. This fully steerable radio telescope is located in Effelsberg near Bonn, Germany. It will receive the signal from the Mars spacecraft at a wavelength of 74.7 centimetres, along with other receiving stations around the world, and make it available to NASA.

False colour image of the delta in Jezero Crater
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.
Credit: © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

River delta and crater lake from Mars's early days

Selected after five years of deliberations, the 45-kilometre-wide Jezero Crater on Mars is a promising site to search for signs of past microbial life. More than 3.5 billion years ago, the now bone-dry basin was home to a body of standing water, a lake in which sediments deposited by two inflow channels have left a multiform river delta. Studies using the experiments on Perseverance could identify traces of past life in the sediments of the delta. In addition, for the first time in the history of Mars exploration, Perseverance is carrying 38 sample containers, which will be filled with cores from depths of up to 20 centimetres. These will be deposited at suitable locations across Mars for later return to Earth. Two future missions planned jointly by NASA and ESA will bring the samples – which are approximately the size of a pencil – to Earth in the early 2030s. On Earth, they will then be analysed in detail by researchers around the world using equipment that would be far too large and complex to send to the Red Planet.

A busy schedule for Mars

Perseverance is 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 to Earth for around three months. The twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity followed in 2004, covering longer distances for the first time, until the 2007 Martian winter ended communication with Spirit and a 2018 dust storm ended communication with Opportunity. In 2009, the Phoenix research station landed in the far north and in 2012, the Curiosity rover, whose chassis is identical to that of Perseverance, landed in Gale crater. In 2018, the InSight stationary landing platform touched down; InSight is a geophysical laboratory that explores the interior of the planet using, among other instruments, DLR's Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP³), which includes the self-hammering 'Mars Mole'. NASA's Perseverance rover is designed for a mission duration of one Martian year (roughly two Earth years) with the option to extend the mission.

Another rover is scheduled to embark to the Red Planet during the next launch window in 2022; this rover would also search for traces of past life. As part of the ExoMars programme of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the Rosalind Franklin rover will, among other tasks, collect samples from a depth of up to two metres, bring them to the surface of Mars and perform high-precision analyses to look for biosignatures. Deep under Mars's surface, organic compounds are better protected from the destructive effects of cosmic radiation. DLR is contributing part of the scientific payload to Rosalind Franklin, including a high-resolution camera on the rover's mast that will allow researchers to analyse different rocks and determine the best possible locations for drilling.

  • Falk Dambowsky
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3959
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
  • Nicole Schmitz
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-456
    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 Ra­men Spec­troscopy
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-9121
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin-Adlershof


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