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  Perseverance to rove Mars' Jezero Crater (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   Perseverance to rove Mars' Jezero Crater
Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA Announces Robust Multi-Year Mars Program; New Rover To Close Out Decade Of New Missions

Building on the success of Curiosity's Red Planet landing, NASA has announced plans for a robust multi-year Mars program, including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020. This announcement affirms the agency's commitment to a bold exploration program that meets our nation's scientific and human exploration objectives.

"The Obama administration is committed to a robust Mars exploration program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "With this next mission, we're ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s."

The planned portfolio includes the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers; two NASA spacecraft and contributions to one European spacecraft currently orbiting Mars; the 2013 launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter to study the Martian upper atmosphere; the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, which will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars; and participation in ESA's 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing "Electra" telecommunication radios to ESA's 2016 mission and a critical element of the premier astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

The plan to design and build a new Mars robotic science rover with a launch in 2020 comes only months after the agency announced InSight, which will launch in 2016, bringing a total of seven NASA missions operating or being planned to study and explore our Earth-like neighbor.

The 2020 mission will constitute another step toward being responsive to high-priority science goals and the president's challenge of sending humans to Mars orbit in the 2030s.

The future rover development and design will be based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) architecture that successfully carried the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface this summer. This will ensure mission costs and risks are as low as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover with a proven landing system. The mission will constitute a vital component of a broad portfolio of Mars exploration missions in development for the coming decade.

The mission will advance the science priorities of the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey and responds to the findings of the Mars Program Planning Group established earlier this year to assist NASA in restructuring its Mars Exploration Program.

"The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation," NASA's associate administrator for science, and astronaut John Grunsfeld said. "This mission concept fits within the current and projected Mars exploration budget, builds on the exciting discoveries of Curiosity, and takes advantage of a favorable launch opportunity."

The specific payload and science instruments for the 2020 mission will be openly competed, following the Science Mission Directorate's established processes for instrument selection. This process will begin with the establishment of a science definition team that will be tasked to outline the scientific objectives for the mission.

This mission fits within the five-year budget plan in the president's Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, and is contingent on future appropriations.

Plans also will include opportunities for infusing new capabilities developed through investments by NASA's Space Technology Program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and contributions from international partners.

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
Science Team Outlines Goals for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover

The rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 should look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the Red Planet, according to a report provided to the agency.

The 154-page document was prepared by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team, which NASA appointed in January to outline the scientific objectives for the mission.

The team, composed of 19 scientists and engineers from universities and research organizations, proposed a mission concept that could accomplish several high-priority planetary science goals and be a major step in meeting President Obama's challenge to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Above: Artist's Concept of Mars 2020 Rover, Annotated (NASA/JPL)

"Crafting the science and exploration goals is a crucial milestone in preparing for our next major Mars mission," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "The objectives determined by NASA with the input from this team will become the basis later this year for soliciting proposals to provide instruments to be part of the science payload on this exciting step in Mars exploration."

NASA will conduct an open competition for the payload and science instruments. They will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity, which landed on Mars almost a year ago. Using Curiosity's design will help minimize mission costs and risks and deliver a rover that can accomplish the mission objectives.

The 2020 mission proposed by the Science Definition Team would build upon the accomplishments of Curiosity and other Mars missions. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers, along with several orbiters, found evidence Mars has a watery history. Curiosity recently confirmed that past environmental conditions on Mars could have supported living microbes. According to the Science Definition Team, looking for signs of past life is the next logical step.

The team's report details how the rover would use its instruments for visual, mineralogical and chemical analysis down to microscopic scale to understand the environment around its landing site and identify biosignatures, or features in the rocks and soil that could have been formed biologically.

"The Mars 2020 mission concept does not presume that life ever existed on Mars," said Jack Mustard, chairman of the Science Definition Team and a professor at the Geological Sciences at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "However, given the recent Curiosity findings, past Martian life seems possible, and we should begin the difficult endeavor of seeking the signs of life. No matter what we learn, we would make significant progress in understanding the circumstances of early life existing on Earth and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life."

The measurements needed to explore a site on Mars to interpret ancient habitability and the potential for preserved biosignatures are identical to those needed to select and cache samples for future return to Earth. The Science Definition Team is proposing the rover collect and package as many as 31 samples of rock cores and soil for a later mission to bring back for more definitive analysis in laboratories on Earth. The science conducted by the rover's instruments would expand our knowledge of Mars and provide the context needed to make wise decisions about whether to return the samples to Earth.

"The Mars 2020 mission will provide a unique capability to address the major questions of habitability and life in the solar system," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington. "This mission represents a major step towards creating high-value sampling and interrogation methods, as part of a broader strategy for sample returns by planetary missions."

Samples collected and analyzed by the rover will help inform future human exploration missions to Mars. The rover could make measurements and technology demonstrations to help designers of a human expedition understand any hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate how to collect carbon dioxide, which could be a resource for making oxygen and rocket fuel. Improved precision landing technology that enhances the scientific value of robotic missions also will be critical for eventual human exploration on the surface.

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA receives Mars rover instrument proposals for evaluation

NASA has received 58 proposals for science and exploration technology instruments to fly aboard the agency's next Mars rover in 2020, twice the usual number submitted for instrument competitions in the recent past, and an indicator of the extraordinary interest in exploration of the Red Planet.

The agency is beginning a thorough review to determine the best combination of science and exploration technology investigations for the mission and anticipates making final selections in the next five months.

"Proposal writing for science missions is extremely difficult and time consuming. We truly appreciate this overwhelming response by the worldwide science and technical community and are humbled by the support and enthusiasm for this unique mission," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "We fully expect to be able to select an instrument suite that will return exciting science and advance space exploration at Mars."

NASA opened competition for Mars 2020 research proposals in September and closed it January 15. Several NASA facilities, academia, industry, research laboratories, and other government agencies submitted proposals. Seventeen proposals came from international partners.

The Mars 2020 mission is designed to accomplish several high-priority planetary science goals and will be an important step toward meeting President Obama's challenge to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. The mission will conduct geological assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.

The science instruments aboard the rover also will enable scientists to identify and select a collection of rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth in the future. This will achieve one of the highest-priority objectives recommended by the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey. Analysis of such samples in laboratories here on Earth will help determine whether life existed on Mars and help inform planning for human exploration missions to the planet.

The rover also may help designers of a human expedition understand the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate how to collect carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could be a valuable resource for producing oxygen and rocket fuel.

"NASA robotic missions are pioneering a path for human exploration of Mars in the 2030s," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations in Washington. "The Mars 2020 rover mission presents new opportunities to learn how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the land could reduce costs and engineering challenges posed by Mars exploration."

The instruments developed from the selected proposals will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity that has been exploring Mars since 2012. Using a proven landing system and rover chassis design to deliver these new experiments to Mars will ensure mission costs and risks are minimized as much as possible while still delivering a highly capable rover.

The 2020 mission will build on the achievements of Curiosity and other Mars missions, and offer opportunities to deploy new capabilities developed through investments by NASA's Space Technology Program, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and contributions from international partners.

"New and more advanced space technologies are essential for future human expeditions to the Red Planet," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology. "These technologies will enable the life support and transportation resources needed for future astronauts to live and work on Mars."

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NASA release
NASA announces Mars 2020 rover payload to explore the Red Planet as never before

The next rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 will carry seven carefully-selected instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet.

NASA announced the selected Mars 2020 rover instruments Thursday at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Managers made the selections out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide. Proposals received were twice the usual number submitted for instrument competitions in the recent past. This is an indicator of the extraordinary interest by the science community in the exploration of the Mars. The selected proposals have a total value of approximately $130 million for development of the instruments.

The Mars 2020 mission will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago, and currently is operating on Mars. The new rover will carry more sophisticated, upgraded hardware and new instruments to conduct geological assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life.

"Today we take another important step on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.” While getting to and landing on Mars is hard, Curiosity was an iconic example of how our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way for humans to pioneer Mars and beyond. Mars exploration will be this generation’s legacy, and the Mars 2020 rover will be another critical step on humans' journey to the Red Planet."

Scientists will use the Mars 2020 rover to identify and select a collection of rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth by a future mission. The Mars 2020 mission is responsive to the science objectives recommended by the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

“The Mars 2020 rover, with these new advanced scientific instruments, including those from our international partners, holds the promise to unlock more mysteries of Mars’ past as revealed in the geological record,” said John Grunsfeld astronaut, and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This mission will further our search for life in the universe and also offer opportunities to advance new capabilities in exploration technology.”

The Mars 2020 rover also will help advance our knowledge of how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the Martian land would transform future exploration of the planet. Designers of future human expeditions can use this mission to understand the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate technology to process carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen. These experiments will help engineers learn how to use Martian resources to produce oxygen for human respiration and potentially oxidizer for rocket fuel.

"The 2020 rover will help answer questions about the Martian environment that astronauts will face and test technologies they need before landing on, exploring and returning from the Red Planet," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Mars has resources needed to help sustain life, which can reduce the amount of supplies that human missions will need to carry. Better understanding the Martian dust and weather will be valuable data for planning human Mars missions. Testing ways to extract these resources and understand the environment will help make the pioneering of Mars feasible."

The selected payload proposals are:

  • Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The instrument also will determine mineralogy of the Martian surface and assist with rover operations. The principal investigator is James Bell, Arizona State University in Phoenix.

  • SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. The instrument will also be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance. The principal investigator is Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. This instrument also has a significant contribution from the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales,Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Plane’tologie (CNES/IRAP) France.

  • Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. PIXL will provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before. The principal investigator is Abigail Allwood, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

  • Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload. The principal investigator is Luther Beegle, JPL.

  • The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. The principal investigator is Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  • Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape. The principal investigator is Jose Rodriguez-Manfredi, Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial, Spain.

  • The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface. The principal investigator is Svein-Erik Hamran, Forsvarets Forskning Institute, Norway.
"We are excited that NASA's Space Technology Program is partnered with Human Exploration and the Mars 2020 Rover Team to demonstrate our abilities to harvest the Mars atmosphere and convert its abundant carbon dioxide to pure oxygen'" said James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for programs for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. "This technology demonstration will pave the way for more affordable human missions to Mars where oxygen is needed for life support and rocket propulsion."

Instruments developed from the selected proposals will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. Using a proven landing system and rover chassis design to deliver these new experiments to Mars will ensure mission costs and risks are minimized as much as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover.

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NASA release
NASA's Next Mars Rover Progresses Toward 2020 Launch

After an extensive review process and passing a major development milestone, NASA is ready to proceed with final design and construction of its next Mars rover, currently targeted to launch in the summer of 2020 and arrive on the Red Planet in February 2021.

The Mars 2020 rover will investigate a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favorable for microbial life, probing the Martian rocks for evidence of past life. Throughout its investigation, it will collect samples of soil and rock and cache them on the surface for potential return to Earth by a future mission.

"The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth," said Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "This mission marks a significant milestone in NASA's Journey to Mars – to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, and to advance our goal of sending humans to the Red Planet."

To reduce risk and provide cost savings, the 2020 rover will look much like its six-wheeled, one-ton predecessor, Curiosity, but with an array of new science instruments and enhancements to explore Mars as never before. For example, the rover will conduct the first investigation into the usability and availability of Martian resources, including oxygen, in preparation for human missions.

Mars 2020 will carry an entirely new subsystem to collect and prepare Martian rocks and soil samples that includes a coring drill on its arm and a rack of sample tubes. About 30 of these sample tubes will be deposited at select locations for return on a potential future sample-retrieval mission. In laboratories on Earth, specimens from Mars could be analyzed for evidence of past life on Mars and possible health hazards for future human missions.

Two science instruments mounted on the rover's robotic arm will be used to search for signs of past life and determine where to collect samples by analyzing the chemical, mineral, physical and organic characteristics of Martian rocks. On the rover's mast, two science instruments will provide high-resolution imaging and three types of spectroscopy for characterizing rocks and soil from a distance, also helping to determine which rock targets to explore up close.

A suite of sensors on the mast and deck will monitor weather conditions and the dust environment, and a ground-penetrating radar will assess sub-surface geologic structure.

The Mars 2020 rover will use the same sky crane landing system as Curiosity, but will have the ability to land in more challenging terrain with two enhancements, making more rugged sites eligible as safe landing candidates.

"By adding what's known as range trigger, we can specify where we want the parachute to open, not just at what velocity we want it to open," said Allen Chen, Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "That shrinks our landing area by nearly half."

Terrain-relative navigation on the new rover will use onboard analysis of downward-looking images taken during descent, matching them to a map that indicates zones designated unsafe for landing.

"As it is descending, the spacecraft can tell whether it is headed for one of the unsafe zones and divert to safe ground nearby," said Chen. "With this capability, we can now consider landing areas with unsafe zones that previously would have disqualified the whole area. Also, we can land closer to a specific science destination, for less driving after landing."

There will be a suite of cameras and a microphone that will capture the never-before-seen or heard imagery and sounds of the entry, descent and landing sequence. Information from the descent cameras and microphone will provide valuable data to assist in planning future Mars landings, and make for thrilling video.

"Nobody has ever seen what a parachute looks like as it is opening in the Martian atmosphere," said JPL's David Gruel, assistant flight system manager for the Mars 2020 mission. "So this will provide valuable engineering information."

Microphones have flown on previous missions to Mars, including NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander in 2008, but never have actually been used on the surface of the Red Planet.

"This will be a great opportunity for the public to hear the sounds of Mars for the first time, and it could also provide useful engineering information," said Mars 2020 Deputy Project Manager Matt Wallace of JPL.

Once a mission receives preliminary approval, it must go through four rigorous technical and programmatic reviews – known as Key Decision Points (KDP) — to proceed through the phases of development prior to launch. Phase A involves concept and requirements definition, Phase B is preliminary design and technology development, Phase C is final design and fabrication, and Phase D is system assembly, testing, and launch. Mars 2020 has just passed its KDP-C milestone.

"Since Mars 2020 is leveraging the design and some spare hardware from Curiosity, a significant amount of the mission's heritage components have already been built during Phases A and B," said George Tahu, Mars 2020 program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "With the KDP to enter Phase C completed, the project is proceeding with final design and construction of the new systems, as well as the rest of the heritage elements for the mission."

The Mars 2020 mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. Driven by scientific discovery, the program currently includes two active rovers and three NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars. NASA also plans to launch a stationary Mars lander in 2018, InSight, to study the deep interior of Mars.

JPL manages the Mars 2020 project and the Mars Exploration Program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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NASA release
NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Mars 2020 Rover Mission

NASA has selected United Launch Services LLC of Centennial, Colorado, to provide launch services for a mission that will address high-priority science goals for the agency's Journey to Mars.

Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July 2020 aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers.

Additionally, scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to identify and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes, and leave them on the surface of Mars for potential return to Earth by a future mission to the Red Planet.

The mission will build on the achievements of Curiosity and other Mars Exploration Program missions, and offer opportunities to deploy new capabilities developed through investments by NASA's Space Technology Program and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, as well as contributions from international partners.

The Mars 2020 rover mission presents new opportunities to learn how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the land could reduce costs and engineering challenges posed by Mars exploration.

The total cost for NASA to launch Mars 2020 is approximately $243 million, which includes: the launch service; spacecraft and spacecraft power source processing; planetary protection processing; launch vehicle integration; and tracking, data and telemetry support.

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NASA release
Mars 2020 Lander Vision System Tested

NASA tested new "eyes" for its next Mars rover mission on a rocket built by Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California, in 2014, thanks in part to NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, or FO program.

The agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is leading development of the Mars 2020 rover's Lander Vision System, or LVS. The prototype vision system launched 1,066 feet into the air aboard Masten's rocket-powered "Xombie" test platform and helped guide the rocket to a precise landing at a predesignated target. LVS flew as part of a larger system of experimental landing technologies called the Autonomous Descent and Ascent Powered-flight Testbed, or ADAPT.

Above: Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten "Xombie" up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

LVS, a camera-based navigation system, photographs the terrain beneath a descending spacecraft and matches it with onboard maps allowing the craft to detect its location relative to landing hazards such as boulders and outcroppings.

The system can then direct the craft toward a safe landing at its primary target site or divert touchdown toward better terrain if there are hazards in the approaching target area. Imaging matching is aided by an inertial measurement unit that monitors orientation.

FO program funded the Masten flight tests under the Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program obtains commercial suborbital space launch services to pursue science, technology and engineering to mature technology relevant to NASA's pursuit of space exploration. The program nurtures the emerging suborbital space industry and allows NASA to focus on deep space.

Andrew Johnson, principal investigator in the Lander Vision System development, said the tests built confidence that the vision system will enable Mars 2020 to land safely.

"By providing funding for flight tests, FOP motivated us to build guidance, navigation and control payloads for testing on Xombie," Johnson said. "In the end we showed a closed loop pinpoint landing demo that eliminated any technical concerns with flying the Lander Vision System on Mars 2020."

According to "Lander Vision System for Safe and Precise Entry Descent and Landing," a 2012 abstract co-authored by Johnson for a Mars exploration workshop, LVS enables a broad range of potential landing sites for Mars missions.

Typically, Mars landers have lacked the ability to analyze and react to hazards, the abstract says. To avoid hazards, mission planners selected wide-open landing sites with mostly flat terrain. As a result, landers and rovers were limited to areas with relatively limited geological features, and were unable to access many sites of high scientific interest with more complex and hazardous surface morphology. LVS will enable safe landing at these scientifically compelling Mars landing sites.

An LVS-equipped mission allows for opportunities to land within more challenging environments and pursue new discoveries about Mars. With LVS baselined for inclusion on Mars 2020, the researchers are now focused on building the flight system ahead of its eventual role on the red planet.

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NASA release
Scientists Shortlist Three Landing Sites for Mars 2020

Participants in a landing site workshop for NASA's upcoming Mars 2020 mission have recommended three locations on the Red Planet for further evaluation. The three potential landing sites for NASA's next Mars rover include Northeast Syrtis (a very ancient portion of Mars' surface), Jezero crater, (once home to an ancient Martian lake), and Columbia Hills (potentially home to an ancient hot spring, explored by NASA's Spirit rover).

More information on the landing sites can be found here.

Mars 2020 is targeted for launch in July 2020 aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers. It will also prepare a collection of samples for possible return to Earth by a future mission.

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NASA release
NASA's Mars 2020 Mission Performs First Supersonic Parachute Test

Landing on Mars is difficult and not always successful. Well-designed advance testing helps. An ambitious NASA Mars rover mission set to launch in 2020 will rely on a special parachute to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere at over 12,000 mph (5.4 kilometers per second). Preparations for this mission have provided, for the first time, dramatic video of the parachute opening at supersonic speed.

The Mars 2020 mission will seek signs of ancient Martian life by investigating evidence in place and by caching drilled samples of Martian rocks for potential future return to Earth. The mission's parachute-testing series, the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment, or ASPIRE, began with a rocket launch and upper-atmosphere flight last month from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia.

"It is quite a ride," said Ian Clark, the test's technical lead from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "The imagery of our first parachute inflation is almost as breathtaking to behold as it is scientifically significant. For the first time, we get to see what it would look like to be in a spacecraft hurtling towards the Red Planet, unfurling its parachute."

A 58-foot-tall (17.7-meter) Black Brant IX sounding rocket launched from Wallops on Oct. 4 for this evaluation of the ASPIRE payload performance. The payload is a bullet-nosed, cylindrical structure holding a supersonic parachute, the parachute's deployment mechanism, and the test's high-definition instrumentation -- including cameras -- to record data.

The rocket carried the payload as high as about 32 miles (51 kilometers). Forty-two seconds later, at an altitude of 26 miles (42 kilometers) and a velocity of 1.8 times the speed of sound, the test conditions were met and the Mars parachute successfully deployed. Thirty-five minutes after launch, ASPIRE splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean about 34 miles (54 kilometers) southeast of Wallops Island.

"Everything went according to plan or better than planned," said Clark. "We not only proved that we could get our payload to the correct altitude and velocity conditions to best mimic a parachute deployment in the Martian atmosphere, but as an added bonus, we got to see our parachute in action as well."

The parachute tested during this first flight was almost an exact copy of the parachute used to land NASA's Mars Science Laboratory successfully on the Red Planet in 2012. Future tests will evaluate the performance of a strengthened parachute that could also be used in future Mars missions. The Mars 2020 team will use data from these tests to finalize the design for its mission.

The next ASPIRE test is planned for February 2018.

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NASA release
NASA Builds its Next Mars Rover Mission

In just a few years, NASA's next Mars rover mission will be flying to the Red Planet.

At a glance, it looks a lot like its predecessor, the Curiosity Mars rover. But there's no doubt it's a souped-up science machine: It has seven new instruments, redesigned wheels and more autonomy. A drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they'll be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission.

This new hardware is being developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which manages the mission for the agency. It includes the Mars 2020 mission's cruise stage, which will fly the rover through space, and the descent stage, a rocket-powered "sky crane" that will lower it to the planet's surface. Both of these stages have recently moved into JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012. Roughly 85 percent of the new rover's mass is based on this "heritage hardware."

"The fact that so much of the hardware has already been designed -- or even already exists -- is a major advantage for this mission," said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "It saves us money, time and most of all, reduces risk."

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals. Mars 2020's instruments will seek signs of ancient life by studying terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments. It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale: An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the "glow" from excited rings of carbon atoms. A ground-penetrating radar will be the first instrument to look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 30 feet (10 meters) deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including color cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporize rocks and soil to analyze their chemistry.

"Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a proving ground for new technology," said George Tahu, NASA's Mars 2020 program executive. "These will gather science data in ways that weren't possible before."

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt: The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth.

"Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer," said Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020's project scientist. "What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we're alone in the universe."

JPL is also developing a crucial new landing technology called terrain-relative navigation. As the descent stage approaches the Martian surface, it will use computer vision to compare the landscape with pre-loaded terrain maps. This technology will guide the descent stage to safe landing sites, correcting its course along the way.

A related technology called the ranger trigger will use location and velocity to determine when to fire the spacecraft's parachute. That change will narrow the landing ellipse by more than 50 percent.

"Terrain-relative navigation enables us to go to sites that were ruled too risky for Curiosity to explore," said Al Chen of JPL, the Mars 202 entry, descent and landing lead. "The range trigger lets us land closer to areas of scientific interest, shaving miles -- potentially as much as a year -- off a rover's journey."

This approach to minimizing landing errors will be critical in guiding any future mission dedicated to retrieving the Mars 2020 samples, Chen said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three. Those three remaining sites represent fundamentally different environments that could have harbored primitive life: an ancient lakebed called Jezero Crater; Northeast Syrtis, where warm waters may have chemically interacted with subsurface rocks; and a possible hot springs at Columbia Hills.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbor signs of past microbial life. A final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

"In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites," Farley said. "It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us."

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NASA release
A Piece of Mars is Going Home

A chunk of Mars will soon be returning home.

A piece of a meteorite called Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008) will be carried on board NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission, now being built at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This chunk will serve as target practice for a high-precision laser on the rover's arm.

Above: Rohit Bhartia of NASA's Mars 2020 mission holds a slice of a meteorite scientists have determined came from Mars. One of two slices will be used for testing a laser instrument for NASA's Mars 2020 rover while it's still on Earth; the other slice will go to Mars onboard the rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars 2020's goal is ambitious: collect samples from the Red Planet's surface that a future mission could potentially return to Earth. One of the rover's many tools will be a laser designed to illuminate rock features as fine as a human hair.

That level of precision requires a calibration target to help tweak the laser's settings. Previous NASA rovers have included calibration targets as well. Depending on the instrument, the target material can include things like rock, metal or glass, and can often look like a painter's palette.

But working on this particular instrument sparked an idea among JPL scientists: why not use an actual piece of Mars? Earth has a limited supply of Martian meteorites, which scientists determined were blasted off Mars' surface millions of years ago.

These meteorites aren't as unique as the geologically diverse samples 2020 will collect. But they're still scientifically interesting — and perfect for target practice.

"We're studying things on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim," said Luther Beegle of JPL. Beegle is principal investigator for a laser instrument called SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals). "By studying how the instrument sees a fixed target, we can understand how it will see a piece of the Martian surface."

SHERLOC will be the first instrument on Mars to use Raman and fluorescence spectroscopies, scientific techniques familiar to forensics experts. Whenever an ultraviolet light shines over certain carbon-based chemicals, they give off the same characteristic glow that you see under a black light.

Scientists can use this glow to detect chemicals that form in the presence of life. SHERLOC will photograph the rocks it studies, then map the chemicals it detects across those images. That adds a spatial context to the layers of data Mars 2020 will collect.

"This kind of science requires texture and organic chemicals — two things that our target meteorite will provide," said Rohit Bhartia of JPL, SHERLOC's deputy principal investigator.

No Flaky Meteorites

Above: Close-up of a slice of a meteorite scientists have determined came from Mars. One of two slices will be used for testing a laser instrument for NASA's Mars 2020 rover while it's still on Earth; the other slice will go to Mars onboard the rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Martian meteorites are precious in their rarity. Only about 200 have been confirmed by The Meteoritical Society, which has a database listing these vetted meteorites.

To select the right one for SHERLOC, JPL turned to contacts at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, as well as the Natural History Museum of London. Not just any Martian meteorite would do: its condition would need to be solid enough that it would not flake apart during the intensity of launch and landing.

It also needed to possess certain chemical features to test SHERLOC's sensitivity. These had to be reasonably easy to detect repeatedly for the calibration target to be useful.

Experts tried several samples, cutting off thin bits to test whether they would crumble. Using a "flaky" sample could damage the entire meteorite in the process.

The SHERLOC team ultimately agreed on using SaU008, a meteorite found in Oman in 1999. Besides being more rugged than other samples, a piece of it was available courtesy of Caroline Smith, principal curator of meteorites at London's Natural History Museum.

"Every year, we provide hundreds of meteorite specimens to scientists all over the world for study," Smith said. "This is a first for us: sending one of our samples back home for the benefit of science."

SaU008 will be the first Martian meteorite to have a fragment return to the planet's surface — though not the first on a return trip to Mars.

Above: A slice of a meteorite scientists have determined came from Mars placed inside an oxygen plasma cleaner, which removes organics from the outside of surfaces. One of two slices of the meteorite will be used for testing a laser instrument for NASA's Mars 2020 rover while it's still on Earth; the other slice will go to Mars onboard the rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Mars Global Surveyor included a chunk of a meteorite known as Zagami. It's still floating around the Red Planet onboard the now-defunct orbiter.

Additionally, the team behind Mars2020's SuperCam instrument will be adding a Martian meteorite to their own calibration target.

Preparing for Humans on Mars

Along with its own Martian meteorite, SHERLOC's calibration target will include several interesting scientific samples for human spaceflight. These include materials that could be used to make spacesuit fabric, gloves and a helmet's visor.

By watching how they hold up under Martian weather, including radiation, NASA will be able to test these materials for future Mars missions.

"The SHERLOC instrument is a valuable opportunity to prepare for human spaceflight as well as to perform fundamental scientific investigations of the Martian surface," said Marc Fries, a SHERLOC co-investigator and curator of extraterrestrial materials at Johnson Space Center. "It gives us a convenient way to test material that will keep future astronauts safe when they get to Mars."

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NASA Mars 2020 Mission Status Report
Results of Heat Shield Testing

A post-test inspection of the composite structure for a heat shield to be used on the Mars 2020 mission revealed that a fracture occurred during structural testing. The mission team is working to build a replacement heat shield structure. The situation will not affect the mission's launch readiness date of July 17, 2020.

Project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is working with contractor Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, to understand the cause of the fracture and determine whether any design changes need to be incorporated into a replacement.

The fracture, which occurred near the shield's outer edge and spans the circumference of the component, was discovered on April 12, after the shield completed a week-long test at the Lockheed Martin Space facility. The test was designed to subject the heat shield to forces up to 20 percent greater than those expected during entry into the Martian atmosphere. While the fracture was unexpected, it represents why spaceflight hardware is tested in advance so that design changes or fixes can be implemented prior to launch.

The heat shield is part of the thermal protection system and aeroshell designed to encapsulate and protect the Mars 2020 rover and landing system from the intense heat generated during descent into the Martian atmosphere. The structure was originally tested in 2008 and was one of two heat shields manufactured in support of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, which successfully landed the Curiosity rover on Mars in August 2012.

The current heat shield will be repaired in order to support the prelaunch spacecraft testing while a new heat shield structure is readied for flight over the next year. Once the new structure is complete and tested, the thermal protection tiles will then be installed for flight, and the heatshield and other components of the aeroshell will be delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final spacecraft processing prior to launch.

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NASA release
NASA Announces Landing Site for Mars 2020 Rover

NASA has chosen Jezero Crater as the landing site for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission after a five year search, during which every available detail of more than 60 candidate locations on the Red Planet was scrutinized and debated by the mission team and the planetary science community.

Above: On ancient Mars, water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins. Examination of spectral data acquired from orbit show that some of these sediments have minerals that indicate chemical alteration by water. Here in Jezero Crater delta, sediments contain clays and carbonates. The image combines information from two instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars and the Context Camera. (NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University)

The rover mission is scheduled to launch in July 2020 as NASA's next step in exploration of the Red Planet. It will not only seek signs of ancient habitable conditions – and past microbial life -- but the rover also will collect rock and soil samples and store them in a cache on the planet's surface. NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) are studying future mission concepts to retrieve the samples and return them to Earth, so this landing site sets the stage for the next decade of Mars exploration.

"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life."

Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Western Isidis presents some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer. Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) crater, once home to an ancient river delta, could have collected and preserved ancient organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life from the water and sediments that flowed into the crater billions of years ago.

Jezero Crater's ancient lake-delta system offers many promising sampling targets of at least five different kinds of rock, including clays and carbonates that have high potential to preserve signatures of past life. In addition, the material carried into the delta from a large watershed may contain a wide variety of minerals from inside and outside the crater.

The geologic diversity that makes Jezero so appealing to Mars 2020 scientists also makes it a challenge for the team's entry, descent and landing (EDL) engineers. Along with the massive nearby river delta and small crater impacts, the site contains numerous boulders and rocks to the east, cliffs to the west, and depressions filled with aeolian bedforms (wind-derived ripples in sand that could trap a rover) in several locations.

"The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive," said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies."

When the landing site search began, mission engineers already had refined the landing system such that they were able to reduce the Mars 2020 landing zone to an area 50 percent smaller than that for the landing of NASA's Curiosity rover at Gale Crater in 2012. This allowed the science community to consider more challenging landing sites. The sites of greatest scientific interest led NASA to add a new capability called Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN). TRN will enable the "sky crane" descent stage, the rocket-powered system that carries the rover down to the surface, to avoid hazardous areas.

The site selection is dependent upon extensive analyses and verification testing of the TRN capability. A final report will be presented to an independent review board and NASA Headquarters in the fall of 2019.

"Nothing has been more difficult in robotic planetary exploration than landing on Mars," said Zurbuchen. "The Mars 2020 engineering team has done a tremendous amount of work to prepare us for this decision. The team will continue their work to truly understand the TRN system and the risks involved, and we will review the findings independently to reassure we have maximized our chances for success."

Selecting a landing site this early allows the rover drivers and science operations team to optimize their plans for exploring Jezero Crater once the rover is safely on the ground. Using data from NASA's fleet of Mars orbiters, they will map the terrain in greater detail and identify regions of interest – places with the most interesting geological features, for example – where Mars 2020 could collect the best science samples.

The Mars 2020 Project at JPL manages rover development for SMD. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management. Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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NASA release
NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Is Put to the Test

In a little more than seven minutes in the early afternoon of Feb. 18, 2021, NASA's Mars 2020 rover will execute about 27,000 actions and calculations as it speeds through the hazardous transition from the edge of space to Mars' Jezero Crater. While that will be the first time the wheels of the 2,314-pound (1,050-kilogram) rover touch the Red Planet, the vehicle's network of processors, sensors and transmitters will, by then, have successfully simulated touchdown at Jezero many times before.

Above: Technicians working Mars 2020's System's Test 1 approach their workstation in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"We first landed on Jezero Crater on Jan. 23rd," said Heather Bottom, systems engineer for the Mars 2020 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "And the rover successfully landed again on Mars two days later."

Bottom was the test lead for Systems Test 1, or ST1, the Mars 2020 engineering team's first opportunity to take the major components of the Mars 2020 mission for a test drive. Over two weeks in January, Bottom and 71 other engineers and technicians assigned to the 2020 mission took over the High Bay 1 cleanroom in JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility to put the software and electrical systems aboard the mission's cruise, entry capsule, descent stage and rover through their paces.

"ST1 was a massive undertaking," said Bottom. "It was our first chance to exercise the flight software we will fly on 2020 with the actual spacecraft components that will be heading to Mars - and make sure they not only operate as expected, but also interact with each other as expected."

The heritage for Mars 2020's software goes back to the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) and the Curiosity rover that has been exploring Mars' Gale Crater since 2012. But 2020 is a different mission with a different rover, a different set of science instruments and a different destination on Mars. Its software has to be tailored accordingly.

Work began in earnest on the flight software in 2013. It was coded, recoded, analyzed and tested on computer workstations and laptops. Later, the flight software matriculated to spacecraft testbeds where it was exposed to computers, sensors and other electronic components customized to imitate the flight hardware that will launch with the mission in 2020.

"Virtual workstations and testbeds are an important part of the process," said Bottom. "But the tens of thousands of individual components that make up the electronics of this mission are not all going to act, or react, exactly like a testbed. Seeing the flight software and the actual flight hardware working together is the best way to build confidence in our processes. Test like you fly."

Making the Grade

On the day before ST1 began, the High Bay 1 cleanroom was hopping with "bunny suit"-clad engineers and technicians assembling, inspecting and testing the mission's hardware. The next day, Wednesday, Jan. 16, the room was eerily quiet. The majority of workers had been replaced by two technicians there to monitor the flight test hardware. Lines of electrical cabling - "umbilicals" - were added to provide data and power to the spacecraft's cruise stage, back shell, descent stage and rover chassis, which have yet to be stacked together. The ground to in-flight spacecraft (and in-flight spacecraft to ground) communications were handled by X-band radio transmission, just like they would be during the trip to Mars.

Above: With the backshell that will help protect the Mars 2020 rover during its descent into the Martian atmosphere visible in the foreground, a technician on the project monitors the progress of Systems Test 1. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

ST1 began with commands to energize the spacecraft's electrical components and set up thermal, power and telecom configurations. While all the spacecraft components remained in the cleanroom, Bottom and her team had them thinking they were sitting on top of an Atlas 541 rocket 190 feet (58 meters) above Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral on July 17, 2020, waiting to be shot into space.

Next, they focused on another part of cruise before testing the landing sequence. Then they did it all over again.

After a successful launch, they time jumped 40 days ahead to simulate deep space cruise. How would the software and hardware interact when they had to perform navigation fixes and trajectory correction maneuvers? And how would they work when simulated events didn't go as planned? The team looked for answers on the operators' computer screens in the test operations room beside the cleanroom.

"From the test operations room, you could look out the windows onto the cleanroom floor and clearly see the flight hardware," said Bottom. "Nothing was visibly moving, but underneath the outer structure, there were flight computers swapping sides, radios sending and receiving transmissions, fuel valves moving in and out, subsystems being energized and later turned off, and electrical signals being sent to nonexistent pyrotechnic devices. There was a lot going on in there."

On Jan. 30, the Mars 2020 test team was able to close their 1,000-plus page book of procedures for ST1. They went two-for-two on Mars landings. They also launchedfour times, performed deep space navigation, executed several trajectory correction maneuvers and even tested a few in-flight off-nominal situations.This first evaluation of flight hardware and software, over a year in the making, had been a thorough success, demonstrating where things excelled and where they could be improved. When these new changes have been investigated on both a virtual workstation and in the testbed, they will have their chance to "fly" in one of the many other systems tests planned for Mars 2020.

"One of the future scenario tests will place the rover inside a thermal chamber and simulate being on the surface. It will step through mission critical activities at some very low Mars surface temperatures," said Bottom. "Both literally and figuratively it will be a very cool test."

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NASA release
Mars 2020 Rover Gets Its Wheels

In this image, taken on June 13, 2019, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, install the starboard legs and wheels — otherwise known as the mobility suspension — on the Mars 2020 rover. They installed the port suspension later that day.

"Now that's a Mars rover," said David Gruel, the Mars 2020 assembly, test, and launch operations manager at JPL. "With the suspension on, not only does it look like a rover, but we have almost all our big-ticket items for integration in our rearview mirror — if our rover had one."

Within the next few weeks, the team expects to install the vehicle's robotic arm, the mast-mounted SuperCam instrument and the Sample Caching System, which includes 17 separate motors and will collect samples of Martian rock and soil that will be returned to Earth by a future mission.

Both of the rover's legs (the starboard leg's black tubing can be seen above the wheels) are composed of titanium tubing formed with the same process used to make high-end bicycle frames. The wheels in this picture are engineering models and will not make the trip to Mars. They will be swapped out for flight models of the wheels sometime next year.

Made of aluminum, each of the six wheels (each 20.7 inches, or 52.5 centimeters, in diameter) features 48 grousers, or cleats, machined into its surface to provide excellent traction both in soft sand and on hard rocks. Every wheel has its own motor. The two front and two rear wheels also have individual steering motors that enable the vehicle to turn a full 360 degrees in place.

When driving over uneven terrain, the suspension system — called a "rocker-bogie" system due to its multiple pivot points and struts — maintains a relatively constant weight on each wheel and minimizes rover tilt for stability. Rover drivers avoid terrain that would cause a tilt of more than 30 degrees, but even so, the rover can withstand a 45-degree tilt in any direction without tipping over. With its suspension, the rover can also roll over rocks and other obstacles as well as through depressions the size of its wheels.

Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July of 2020. It will land at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

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NASA release
Mars 2020 Rover's 7-Foot-Long Robotic Arm Installed

In this image, taken on June 21, 2019, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, install the main robotic arm on the Mars 2020 rover. (A smaller arm to handle Mars samples will be installed inside the rover as well.) The main arm includes five electrical motors and five joints (known as the shoulder azimuth joint, shoulder elevation joint, elbow joint, wrist joint and turret joint). Measuring 7 feet (2.1 meters) long, the arm will allow the rover to work as a human geologist would: by holding and using science tools with its turret, which is essentially its "hand."

"You have to give a hand to our rover arm installation team," said Ryan van Schilifgaarde, a support engineer at JPL for Mars 2020 assembly. "They made an extremely intricate operation look easy. We're looking forward to more of the same when the arm will receive its turret in the next few weeks."

The rover's turret will include high-definition cameras, science instruments, and a percussive drill and coring mechanism. Those tools will be used to analyze and collect samples of Martian rock and soil, which will be cached on the surface for return to Earth by a future mission.

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Lockheed Martin release
Lockheed Martin Delivers Mars 2020 Rover Aeroshell to Launch Site

Heat Shield and Backshell Will Protect NASA's Rover During Descent to Mars

The capsule-shaped aeroshell that will protect NASA's Mars 2020 rover was delivered to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida. yesterday. Built by Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT], the aeroshell will encapsulate and protect the Mars 2020 rover during its deep space cruise to Mars, and from the intense heat as the entry system descends through the Martian atmosphere to the surface of Mars.

Above: The aeroshell for the Mars 2020 rover was designed and built at Lockheed Martin Space near Denver and is comprised of two parts, the heat shield and the backshell.

Because of the large mass and unique entry trajectory profile that could create external temperatures up to 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat shield uses a tiled Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) thermal protection system instead of the Mars heritage Super Lightweight Ablator (SLA) 561V. This will only be the second time PICA has flown on a Mars mission.

"Even though we have the experience of building the nearly identical aeroshell for the Curiosity Rover, the almost 15-foot diameter composite structure was just as big a challenge to build and test 10 years later," said Neil Tice, Mars 2020 aeroshell program manager at Lockheed Martin Space. "We've built every Mars aeroshell entry system for NASA of its 40 years of exploring Mars, so we pulled from that experience to build this important system."

Along with the Curiosity mission, this is the largest aeroshell/heat shield ever built for a planetary mission at 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet) in diameter. In contrast, the aeroshell/heat shield of the InSight lander measured 8.6 feet and Apollo capsule heat shields measured just less than 13 feet.

The backshell and heat shield were transported from Lockheed Martin's Waterton facility in Littleton, Colorado where they were built, to nearby Buckley Air Force Base. They were then loaded onto an Air Force transport plane and flown to NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Recently, Lockheed Martin integrated the MSL Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI2) onto the heat shield and backshell. Provided by NASA's Langley and Ames Research Centers, MEDLI2 will collect temperature and pressure data during the spacecraft's descent through the Martian atmosphere.

The Mars 2020 rover is in testing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California., which manages the Mars 2020 project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission will launch in July 2020 and land on Mars in February 2021 at the Jezero Crater.

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NASA release
NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Completes Its First Drive

NASA's next Mars rover has passed its first driving test. A preliminary assessment of its activities on Dec. 17, 2019, found that the rover checked all the necessary boxes as it rolled forward and backward and pirouetted in a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The next time the Mars 2020 rover drives, it will be rolling over Martian soil.

Above: In a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"Mars 2020 has earned its driver's license," said Rich Rieber, the lead mobility systems engineer for Mars 2020. "The test unambiguously proved that the rover can operate under its own weight and demonstrated many of the autonomous-navigation functions for the first time. This is a major milestone for Mars 2020."

Scheduled to launch in July or August 2020, the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize Mars' climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. It is scheduled to land in an area of Mars known as Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

"To fulfill the mission's ambitious science goals, we need the Mars 2020 rover to cover a lot of ground," said Katie Stack Morgan, Mars 2020 deputy project scientist.

Mars 2020 is designed to make more driving decisions for itself than any previous rover. It is equipped with higher-resolution, wide-field-of-view color navigation cameras, an extra computer "brain" for processing images and making maps, and more sophisticated auto-navigation software. It also has wheels that have been redesigned for added durability.

All these upgrades allow the rover to average about 650 feet (200 meters) per Martian day. To put that into perspective, the longest drive in a single Martian day was 702 feet (214 meters), a record set by NASA's Opportunity rover. Mars 2020 is designed to average the current planetwide record drive distance.

Above: In a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA's Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In a 10-plus-hour marathon on Tuesday that demonstrated all the systems working in concert, the rover steered, turned and drove in 3-foot (1-meter) increments over small ramps covered with special static-control mats. Since these systems performed well under Earth's gravity, engineers expect them to perform well under Mars' gravity, which is only three-eighthsas strong. The rover was also able to gather data with the Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX).

"A rover needs to rove, and Mars 2020 did that yesterday," said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager. "We can't wait to put some red Martian dirt under its wheels."

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NASA release
NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Goes Coast-to-Coast to Prep for Launch

NASA's next Mars rover has arrived in Florida to begin final preparations for its launch to the Red Planet this July. Two Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo planes carrying the Mars 2020 rover as well as the cruise stage, descent stage and Mars Helicopter touched down at NASA's Kennedy Space Center at about 3 p.m. EST (12 p.m. PST) today, completing a 2,300-mile (3,700-kilometer) trip that began yesterday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Above: On Feb. 11, 2020, Mars 2020 Assembly, Test and Launch Operations Manager David Gruel watched as members of his team loaded NASA's next Mars rover onto an Air Force C-17 at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California. The rover was flown to Cape Canaveral, Florida, in preparation for its July launch. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"Our rover has left the only home it has ever known," said John McNamee, Mars 2020 project manager. "The 2020 family here at JPL is a little sad to see it go, but we're even more proud knowing that the next time our rover takes to the skies, it will be headed to Mars."

Assembly, test and launch operations for Mars 2020 began in January 2018. The first piece of hardware that would become part of the rover arrived on the clean room floor of JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 a few months later.

The rover's aeroshell - its protective covering for the trip to the Red Planet - arrived at Kennedy this past December. Early on Feb. 11, the rover, cruise stage, descent stage and mission support equipment headed in four police-escorted trucks to the U.S. Air Force's March Air Reserve Base, where they were loaded aboard the two waiting C-17s.

Within hours of arriving at the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, the 11 pallets of Mars 2020 spacecraft will be transported to the same spacecraft processing facility that in 2011 handled NASA's Curiosity rover, which is currently exploring Mars' Gale Crater. Later this week, the Mars 2020 assembly, test and launch operations team will begin testing the components to assess their health following the cross-country flight.

After months of final assembly and additional testing, Mars 2020 should be enclosed in its aeroshell for the final time in late June. It will be delivered to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41 to be integrated with the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will hurl it toward Jezero Crater in early July.

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NASA picks 'Perseverance' as new name for Mars 2020 rover

When NASA's next rover extends its robotic arm on Mars next year, it will do so with "Perseverance," thanks to the contest entry of a 13-year-old student from Virginia.

Now attached to the arm is a laser-inscribed plate displaying "Perseverance" as the rover's newly-revealed name. The six wheeled science platform was known previously as NASA's Mars 2020 rover.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Rover Spacecraft Put in Launch Configuration

Engineers working on NASA's Perseverance rover mission at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida have begun the process of placing the Mars-bound rover and other spacecraft components into the configuration they'll be in as they ride on top of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The launch period for the mission opens on July 17 - just 70 days from now.

Above: NASA's Mars Perseverance rover's descent stage was recently stacked atop the rover at Kennedy Space Center, and the two were placed in their back shell. The Ingenuity helicopter can be seen attached to the rover's underside (lower center of the image). (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Called "vehicle stacking," the process began on April 23 with the integration of the rover and its rocket-powered descent stage. One of the first steps in the daylong operation was to lift the descent stage onto Perseverance so that engineers could connect the two with flight-separation bolts.

When it's time for the rover to touch down on Mars, these three bolts will be released by small pyrotechnic charges, and the spacecraft will execute the sky crane maneuver: Nylon cords spool out through what are called bridle exit guides to lower the rover 25 feet (7.6 meters) below the descent stage. Once Perseverance senses it's on the surface, pyrotechnically-fired blades will sever the cords, and the descent stage flies off. The sky crane maneuver ensures Perseverance will land on the Martian surface free of any other spacecraft components, eliminating the need for a complex deployment procedure.

Above: The cone-shaped back shell for NASA's Perseverance rover mission is shown in this April 29, 2020, image from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"Attaching the rover to the descent stage is a major milestone for the team because these are the first spacecraft components to come together for launch, and they will be the last to separate when we reach Mars," said David Gruel, the Perseverance rover assembly, test, and launch operations manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages rover operations. "These two assemblies will remain firmly nestled together until they are about 65 feet [20 meters] over the surface of Mars."

On April 29, the rover and descent stage were attached to the cone-shaped back shell, which contains the parachute and, along with the mission's heat shield, provides protection for the rover and descent stage during Martian atmospheric entry.

Above: This image of the rocket-powered descent stage sitting on to of NASA's Perseverance rover was taken in a clean room at Kennedy Space Center on April 29, 2020. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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United Launch Alliance (ULA) release
Mars 2020: Atlas V rocket arrives at launch site

With less than two months until launch, the Atlas V rocket has arrived at Cape Canaveral from the factory for its mission to send NASA's Perseverance rover to Mars in search of ancient life.

The rocket's first stage was delivered from ULA's manufacturing plant in Decatur, Alabama, aboard the massive Volga-Dnepr Antonov AN-124-100 cargo aircraft. The 107-foot-tall Atlas booster was loaded into the jet in Huntsville for the flight to the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday, May 18.

The Antonov was parked at the runway's ramp, the front of the aircraft swung open and technicians offloaded the rocket Tuesday, May 19, for transport to the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center (ASOC). The stage was wrapped in a protective covering for the trek from the factory.

At the ASOC, the stage will undergo receiving checks and ordnance installations before moving soon to the Vertical Integration Facility to begin stacking operations.

The first stage joins the Centaur upper stage already delivered to the Cape for the Perseverance launch. Centaur was driven from Decatur to the launch site in an over-the-road shipping trailer in mid-April to begin its pre-flight processing.

Since the Atlas first stage is too large to be transported across the Southeast U.S. by road, air-delivery by the Antonov is an alternative way to deliver the rocket.

The primary mode of transportation that ULA uses is the R/S RocketShip (learn more about the ship), the rocket-carrying cargo vessel that can navigate both shallow rivers and vast ocean travel.

But RocketShip has been occupied delivering the entire Delta IV Heavy rocket — three common booster cores, Delta Cryogenic Second Stage and payload fairing — to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, via the Panama Canal, for an upcoming national security launch.

The Delta IV cores are too large for either road transport or the Antonov, making RocketShip the only method of taking the rocket to the launch site.

But the smaller diameter of Atlas allows its main stage to be compatible with both the RocketShip and the Antonov.

The Perseverance launch is planned for July 17 from Space Launch Complex-41 when the window of planetary alignment between Earth and Mars opens to dispatch the rover.

ULA and its heritage rockets have launched every U.S. mission to Mars. Atlas V, in particular, will be launching to Mars for the fifth time with Perseverance.

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NASA release
Mars 2020 Mission Now Targeted for July 22 Launch

NASA and United Launch Alliance are now targeting Wednesday, July 22, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission due to a processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft. Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF).

The spacecraft and vehicle remain healthy. The launch of the Mars 2020 mission on an Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is scheduled for 9:35 a.m. ET with a two-hour window.

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NASA release
NASA targeting NET July 30 for Mars 2020 launch

Due to launch vehicle processing delays in preparation for spacecraft mate operations, NASA and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have moved the first launch attempt of the Mars 2020 mission to no earlier than (NET) July 30.

A liquid oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the Wet Dress Rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate. Flight analysis teams have expanded the mission launch opportunities to August 15 and are examining if the launch period may be extended further into August.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Rover Attached to Atlas V

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has been attached to the top of the rocket that will send it toward the Red Planet this summer. Encased in the nose cone that will protect it during launch, the rover and the rest of the Mars 2020 spacecraft – the aeroshell, cruise stage, and descent stage – were affixed to a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster on Tuesday, July 7, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Central Florida.

Above: The nose cone containing NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is maneuvered into place atop its Atlas V rocket. The image was taken at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 7, 2020. (NASA/KSC)

The process began when a 60-ton hoist on the roof of the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41 lifted the nose cone, otherwise known as the payload fairing, 129 feet (39 meters) to the top of the waiting rocket. There, engineers made the physical and electrical connections that will remain between booster and spacecraft until about 50 to 60 minutes after launch, when the two are pyrotechnically separated and Perseverance is on its way.

"I have seen my fair share of spacecraft being lifted onto rockets," said John McNamee, project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "But this one is special because there are so many people who contributed to this moment. To each one of them I want to say, we got here together, and we'll make it to Mars the same way."

With the mating of spacecraft and booster complete, the final testing of the two (separately and as one unit) will be underway. Then two days before the July 30 launch, the Atlas V will leave the Vertical Integration Facility for good. Traveling by rail, it will cover the 1,800 feet (550 meters) to the launch pad in about 40 minutes. From there, Perseverance has about seven months and 290 million miles (467 million kilometers) to go before arriving at Mars.

The Launch Period

NASA and United Launch Alliance recently updated the mission's launch period – the range of days the rocket can launch in order to reach Mars. It now spans from July 30 to Aug. 15.

The launch period opening changed from July 17 to 30 due to launch vehicle processing delays in preparation for spacecraft mate operations. Four days were also added to the previously designated Aug. 11 end of the launch period. NASA and United Launch Alliance Flight Teams were able to provide those extra days after final weights of both the spacecraft and launch vehicle became available, allowing them to more accurately calculate the propellant available to get Perseverance on its way.

No matter what day Perseverance lifts off during its July 30 to Aug. 15 launch period, it will land in Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. Targeting landing for one specific date and time helps mission planners better understand lighting and temperature at the landing site, as well as the location of Mars-orbiting satellites tasked with recording and relaying spacecraft data during its descent and landing.

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NASA release
NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover Passes Flight Readiness Review

NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission cleared its Flight Readiness Review Wednesday, an important milestone on its way to the launch pad. The meeting was an opportunity for the Mars 2020 team and launch vehicle provider United Launch Alliance to report on the readiness of the spacecraft, along with the Atlas V rocket, flight and ground hardware, software, personnel, and procedures. The daily launch window on Thursday July 30 opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT

"Our deepest thanks go to the many teams who have worked so hard to get Perseverance ready to fly during these challenging times," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "This mission is emblematic of our nation's spirit of meeting problems head-on and finding solutions together. The incredible science Perseverance will enable and the bold human missions it will help make possible are going to be inspirations for us all."

"We're pleased to be passing another milestone with the completion of the Flight Readiness Review," said Matt Wallace, deputy project manager for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. "But we'll keep our heads down through the final prelaunch activities and the opening of the launch window next week, until we're certain this spacecraft is safely on its way. Mars is a tough customer, and we don't take anything for granted."

With all the connections between the spacecraft and Atlas V launch vehicle complete, the majority of business remaining for Mars 2020's Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO) team involves checking out every one of the multitude of systems and subsystems onboard the rover, aeroshell, cruise stage, and descent stage.

"NASA can't wait to take the next steps on the surface of Mars with Perseverance," said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The science and technology of this mission are going to help us address major questions about the geologic and astrobiologic history of Mars that we've been working on for decades, and we're excited to take the whole world with us on this journey."

"At this point, the spacecraft has been powered on and will remain so around the clock," said Dave Gruel, ATLO manager for Mars 2020. "The launch operations team will continue to monitor the health of the spacecraft to ensure it's 'Go' for launch - nothing glamorous, but an important part of the job."

The spacecraft and launch teams have one more major review to complete. Scheduled Monday, July 27, the Launch Readiness Review is the last significant checkup before the mission receives final approval to proceed with launch.

"At present, everything is green across the board," said Wallace. "Everyone involved with this endeavor, from the spacecraft team to the launch vehicle team to those working the range, are looking forward to seeing Perseverance begin its long-awaited flight to Mars."

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Mars sample return: NASA's Perseverance rover to return Martian meteorites to Mars

NASA is poised to launch its first Mars sample return mission, though not in the traditional sense of the term.

The U.S. space agency is preparing to send its next rover to the red planet with the tools needed to collect and cache samples for their later return to Earth by a future spacecraft. The samples may help answer if ancient life existed on Mars.

NASA describes the Perseverance rover as "the first leg of a round trip to Mars," but the six-wheeled vehicle is already equipped with everything it needs to carry out the first "Mars sample return," even before reaching Mars.

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NASA's Perseverance rover to test future spacesuit materials on Mars

NASA's Perseverance rover is headed to Mars "well suited" to help advance the day when humans walk on the Red Planet.

While the rover's primary mission is to search for signs of ancient microbial life, small material swatches mounted to the front of the six-wheeled vehicle will help validate NASA's fabric choices for future Mars-bound astronaut spacesuits.

The same squares will also help keep one of Perseverance's science instruments fine tuned as it investigates the dry river basin in Mars' Jezero Crater.

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United Launch Alliance (ULA) photo release
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on board is seen on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 after being rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility, Tuesday, July 28, 2020, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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NASA live video
Teams are targeting 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT) on Thursday, July 30, for liftoff of Perseverance atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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NASA Perseverance rover launches to Mars to cache signs of life

NASA's first Mars mission devoted to searching for and caching signs of life for a future return to Earth is now on its way to the Red Planet.

The U.S. space agency's Mars 2020 mission, which includes a six-wheeled rover named "Perseverance" and a small helicopter called "Ingenuity," lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Thursday (July 30).

The 7:50 a.m. EDT (1150 GMT) launch began the mission's seven-month, 300 million-mile (480 million-kilometer) journey to Mars, which will culminate in the so-called "seven minutes of terror," otherwise known as entry, descent and landing, on Feb. 18, 2021, into Jezero Crater located on the western edge of a giant impact basin just north of the planet's equator.

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NASA release
Mars 2020 Perseverance Healthy and on Its Way

The team controlling NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has received telemetry (detailed spacecraft data) down from the spacecraft and has also been able to send commands up to the spacecraft, according to Matt Wallace, the mission's deputy project manager. The team, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, has confirmed that the spacecraft is healthy and on its way to Mars.

Wallace provided a more detailed update on two issues during launch operations:

"First, the proximity of the spacecraft to Earth immediately after launch was saturating the ground station receivers of NASA's Deep Space Network. This is a known issue that we have encountered on other planetary missions, including during the launch of NASA's Curiosity rover in 2011. The Perseverance team worked through prepared mitigation strategies that included detuning the receivers and pointing the antennas slightly off-target from the spacecraft to bring the signal within an acceptable range. We are now in lock on telemetry after taking these actions.

"The second issue was a transient event involving temperature on the spacecraft. The mission uses a liquid freon loop to bring heat from the center of the spacecraft to radiators on the cruise stage (the part that helps fly the rover to Mars), which have a view to space. We monitor the difference in temperature between the warm inlet to the radiators and the cooler outlet from the radiators. As the spacecraft entered into Earth's shadow, the Sun was temporary blocked by Earth, and the outlet temperature dropped. This caused the difference between the warm inlet and cooler outlet to increase. This transient differential tripped an alarm and caused the spacecraft to transition into the standby mode known as 'safe mode.'

"Modeling by the team predicted something like this could happen during eclipse – the time when the spacecraft is in Earth's shadow – but we could not create this exact environment for tests prior to launch. Nor did we have flight data from Curiosity, because its trajectory had no eclipse. We set the limits for the temperature differential conservatively tight for triggering a safe mode. The philosophy is that it is far better to trigger a safe mode event when not required, than miss one that is. Safe mode is a stable and acceptable mode for the spacecraft, and triggering safe mode during this transitional phase is not problematic for Mars 2020.

"With the understanding of the causes of these issues, we are conducting the operations necessary to move the spacecraft back out of safe mode and into normal cruise mode."

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NASA release
Mars 2020 Perseverance exits safe mode

Flight controllers for NASA's Mars 2020 mission have returned the spacecraft to nominal flight operations.

Mars 2020 entered a state called safe mode soon after it was placed on an interplanetary trajectory because a sensor indicated that part of the spacecraft was slightly colder than expected. When a spacecraft enters safe mode, all but essential systems are turned off until it receives new commands from mission control.

"With safe mode exit, the team is getting down to the business of interplanetary cruise," said Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Next stop, Jezero Crater."

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Rover Is Midway to Mars

Sometimes half measures can be a good thing - especially on a journey this long. The agency's latest rover only has about 146 million miles left to reach its destination.

NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission has logged a lot of flight miles since being lofted skyward on July 30 - 146.3 million miles (235.4 million kilometers) to be exact. Turns out that is exactly the same distance it has to go before the spacecraft hits the Red Planet's atmosphere like a 11,900 mph (19,000 kph) freight train on Feb. 18, 2021.

"At 1:40 p.m. Pacific Time today (Oct. 27, 2020), our spacecraft will have just as many miles in its metaphorical rearview mirror as it will out its metaphorical windshield," said Julie Kangas, a navigator working on the Perseverance rover mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "While I don't think there will be cake, especially since most of us are working from home, it's still a pretty neat milestone. Next stop, Jezero Crater."

The Sun's gravitational influence plays a significant role in shaping not just spacecraft trajectories to Mars (as well as to everywhere else in the solar system), but also the relative movement of the two planets. So Perseverance's route to the Red Planet follows a curved trajectory rather than an arrow-straight path.

"Although we're halfway into the distance we need to travel to Mars, the rover is not halfway between the two worlds," Kangas explained. "In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles [42.7 million kilometers] behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles [28.8 million kilometers] in front."

At the current distance, it takes 2 minutes, 22 seconds for a transmission to travel from mission controllers at JPL via the Deep Space Network to the spacecraft. By time of landing, Perseverance will have covered 292.5 million miles (470.8 million kilometers), andMars will be about 130 million miles (209 million kilometers) away from Earth; at that point, a transmission will take about 11.5 minutes to reach the spacecraft.

Work Continues En Route

The mission team continues to check out spacecraft systems big and small during interplanetary cruise. Perseverance's RIMFAX and MOXIE instruments were tested and determined to be in good shape on Oct. 15. MEDA got a thumbs up on Oct. 19. There was even a line item to check the condition of the X-ray tube in the PIXL instrument on Oct. 16, which also went as planned.

"If it is part of our spacecraft and electricity runs through it, we want to confirm it is still working properly following launch," said Keith Comeaux, deputy chief engineer for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission. "Between these checkouts - along with charging the rover's and Mars Helicopter's batteries, uploading files and sequences for surface operations, and planning for and executing trajectory correction maneuvers - our plate is full right up to landing."

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Rover Is 100 Days Out

A mere 100 days and 166 million miles (268 million kilometers) separate NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission and the Red Planet's Jezero Crater. Landing will occur on Feb. 18, 2021, at 12:43 p.m. PST (3:43 p.m. EST), with confirmation being received back at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California about 11 1/2 minutes later.

The six-wheeled Mars car is tasked with prowling the crater - believed to be the site of a Martian lake billions of years ago - to search for signs of ancient microbial life, collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust), and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

"While we call the six-and-a-half-month trip from Earth to Mars 'cruise,' I assure you there is not much croquet going on at the lido deck," said Project Manager John McNamee of JPL. "Between checking out the spacecraft, and planning and simulating our landing and surface operations, the entire team is on the clock, working toward our exploration of Jezero Crater."

On Nov. 9, the mission team confirmed that the propulsion subsystem of the descent stage, which will help lower the rover onto Mars, is in good working order. Today, Nov. 10, they turn their attention to the rover's PIXL and SHERLOC instruments. The Lander Vision System is scheduled to go under the microscope on Nov. 11; and the SuperCam instrument, the day after that. Down the road, on Dec. 18, the team plans to perform a trajectory correction maneuver, using the cruise stage's eight thrusters to refine the spacecraft's path toward Mars.

Above: An electrical cable can be seen snaking its way along insulation material in this in-flight image of the interior of the Mars 2020 spacecraft on its way to the Red Planet. The picture was assembled using three images taken by the Perseverance rover's rear left Hazcam during a systems check on Oct. 19, 2020. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The mission has already held several test scenarios to help evaluate procedures and train Mars 2020 mission controllers for important milestones to come. During some of these multi-day-long tests, the team encounters unexpected challenges thrown their way by colleagues who play the role of "gremlins." Even with the challenges introduced during a landing rehearsal back on Oct. 29, the team was able to successfully land a simulated Perseverance rover on Mars.

Another important mission milestone will be rehearsed starting next Monday, Nov. 16, when the team begins a five-day simulation of surface operations - including driving the rover and conducting a sampling. In December, the team is expecting a gremlin or two to make an appearance during another five-day simulation of the rover's transition from landing to surface operations.

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NASA's Perseverance rover lands on Mars to collect signs of life

NASA now has six new wheels sitting on the surface of Mars, ready to begin the first dedicated search for signs of life to return to Earth.

The space agency's Perseverance rover touched down on the Red Planet on Thursday (Feb. 18), landing in Jezero Crater, the site of a 3.5-billion-year-old river basin located in the Martian northern hemisphere. Confirmation of the safe landing came at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT), after the roughly 11 minutes needed for the rover's signal to reach Earth.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Rover Sends Sneak Peek of Mars Landing

Less than a day after NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover successfully landed on the surface of Mars, engineers and scientists at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California were hard at work, awaiting the next transmissions from Perseverance. As data gradually came in, relayed by several spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet, the Perseverance team were relieved to see the rover's health reports, which showed everything appeared to be working as expected.

Adding to the excitement was a high-resolution image taken during the rover's landing. While NASA's Mars Curiosity rover sent back a stop-motion movie of its descent, Perseverance's cameras are intended to capture video of its touchdown and this new still image was taken from that footage, which is still being relayed to Earth and processed.

Unlike with past rovers, the majority of Perseverance's cameras capture images in color. After landing, two of the Hazard Cameras (Hazcams) captured views from the front and rear of the rover, showing one of its wheels in the Martian dirt.

Perseverance got a close-up from NASA's eye in the sky, as well: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance. Orbiter, which used a special high-resolution camera to capture the spacecraft sailing into Jezero Crater, with its parachute trailing behind. The High Resolution Camera Experiment (HiRISE) camera did the same for Curiosity in 2012. JPL leads the orbiter's mission, while the HiRISE instrument is led by the University of Arizona.

Several pyrotechnic charges are expected to fire later on Friday, releasing Perseverance's mast (the "head" of the rover) from where it is fixed on the rover's deck. The Navigation Cameras (Navcams), which are used for driving, share space on the mast with two science cameras: the zoomable Mastcam-Z and a laser instrument called SuperCam. The mast is scheduled to be raised Saturday, Feb. 20, after which the Navcams are expected to take panoramas of the rover's deck and its surroundings.

In the days to come, engineers will pore over the rover's system data, updating its software and beginning to test its various instruments. In the following weeks, Perseverance will test its robotic arm and take its first, short drive. It will be at least one or two months until Perseverance will find a flat location to drop off Ingenuity, the mini-helicopter attached to the rover's belly, and even longer before it finally hits the road, beginning its science mission and searching for its first sample of Martian rock and sediment.

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Experience Perseverance landing on Mars in first video, audio from NASA rover

You can now experience what it is like to plummet through the atmosphere, descend by parachute and rocket to a safe touchdown on Mars, thanks to a new video recorded by NASA's Perseverance rover.

Further, a microphone on board the six-wheeled spacecraft has provided a chance to hear of the wind as it sounds on the Red Planet's surface.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Drives on Mars' Terrain for First Time

NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover performed its first drive on Mars March 4, covering 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) across the Martian landscape. The drive served as a mobility test that marks just one of many milestones as team members check out and calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance. Once the rover begins pursuing its science goals, regular commutes extending 656 feet (200 meters) or more are expected.

Above: This image was captured while NASA's Perseverance rover drove on Mars for the first time on March 4, 2021. One of Perseverance's Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams) captured this image as the rover completed a short traverse and turn from its landing site in Jezero Crater.

"When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive," said Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "This was our first chance to 'kick the tires' and take Perseverance out for a spin. The rover's six-wheel drive responded superbly. We are now confident our drive system is good to go, capable of taking us wherever the science leads us over the next two years."

Above: NASA’s Perseverance rover wiggles one of its wheels in this set of images obtained by the rover’s left Navigation Camera on March 4, 2021.

The drive, which lasted about 33 minutes, propelled the rover forward 13 feet (4 meters), where it then turned in place 150 degrees to the left and backed up 8 feet (2.5 meters) into its new temporary parking space. To help better understand the dynamics of a retrorocket landing on the Red Planet, engineers used Perseverance's Navigation and Hazard Avoidance Cameras to image the spot where Perseverance touched down, dispersing Martian dust with plumes from its engines.

More Than Roving

The rover's mobility system is not only thing getting a test drive during this period of initial checkouts. On Feb. 26 – Perseverance's eighth Martian day, or sol, since landing – mission controllers completed a software update, replacing the computer program that helped land Perseverance with one they will rely on to investigate the planet.

More recently, the controllers checked out Perseverance's Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) and Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instruments, and deployed the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instrument's two wind sensors, which extend out from the rover's mast. Another significant milestone occurred on March 2, or sol 12, when engineers unstowed the rover's 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm for the first time, flexing each of its five joints over the course of two hours.

"Tuesday's first test of the robotic arm was a big moment for us," said Robert Hogg, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover deputy mission manager. "That's the main tool the science team will use to do close-up examination of the geologic features of Jezero Crater, and then we'll drill and sample the ones they find the most interesting. When we got confirmation of the robotic arm flexing its muscles, including images of it working beautifully after its long trip to Mars – well, it made my day."

Upcoming events and evaluations include more detailed testing and calibration of science instruments, sending the rover on longer drives, and jettisoning covers that shield both the adaptive caching assembly (part of the rover's Sample Caching System) and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during landing. The experimental flight test program for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will also take place during the rover's commissioning.

Through it all, the rover is sending down images from the most advanced suite of cameras ever to travel to Mars. The mission's cameras have already sent about 7,000 images. On Earth, Perseverance's imagery flows through the powerful Deep Space Network (DSN), managed by NASA's Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. In space, several Mars orbiters play an equally important role.

"Orbiter support for downlink of data has been a real gamechanger," said Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL. "When you see a beautiful image from Jezero, consider that it took a whole team of Martians to get it to you. Every picture from Perseverance is relayed by either the European Space Agency's Trace Gas Orbiter, or NASA's MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They are important partners in our explorations and our discoveries."

The sheer volume of imagery and data already coming down on this mission has been a welcome bounty for Matt Wallace, who recalls waiting anxiously for the first images to trickle in during NASA's first Mars rover mission, Sojourner, which explored Mars in 1997. On March 3, Wallace became the mission's new project manager. He replaced John McNamee, who is stepping down as he intended, after helming the project for nearly a decade.

"John has provided unwavering support to me and every member of the project for over a decade," said Wallace. "He has left his mark on this mission and team, and it has been my privilege to not only call him boss but also my friend."

Touchdown Site Named

With Perseverance departing from its touchdown site, mission team scientists have memorialized the spot, informally naming it for the late science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. The groundbreaking author and Pasadena, California, native was the first African American woman to win both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award, and she was the first science fiction writer honored with a MacArthur Fellowship. The location where Perseverance began its mission on Mars now bears the name "Octavia E. Butler Landing."

Above: NASA has named the landing site of the agency’s Perseverance rover “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” after the science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. The landing location is marked with a star in this image from the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Official scientific names for places and objects throughout the solar system – including asteroids, comets, and locations on planets – are designated by the International Astronomical Union. Scientists working with NASA's Mars rovers have traditionally given unofficial nicknames to various geological features, which they can use as references in scientific papers.

"Butler's protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges," said Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance. "Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields."

"I can think of no better person to mark this historic landing site than Octavia E. Butler, who not only grew up next door to JPL in Pasadena, but she also inspired millions with her visions of a science-based future," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. "Her guiding principle, 'When using science, do so accurately,' is what the science team at NASA is all about. Her work continues to inspire today's scientists and engineers across the globe – all in the name of a bolder, more equitable future for all."

Butler, who died in 2006, authored such notable works as "Kindred," "Bloodchild," "Speech Sounds," "Parable of the Sower," "Parable of the Talents," and the "Patternist" series. Her writing explores themes of race, gender, equality, and humanity, and her works are as relevant today as they were when originally written and published.

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NASA release
Perseverance Rover's SuperCam Science Instrument Delivers First Results

Data from the powerful science tool includes sounds of its laser zapping a rock in order to test what it's made of.

The first readings from the SuperCam instrument aboard NASA's Perseverance rover have arrived on Earth. SuperCam was developed jointly by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and a consortium of French research laboratories under the auspices of the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The instrument delivered data to the French Space Agency's operations center in Toulouse that includes the first audio of laser zaps on another planet.

Above: Combining two images, this mosaic shows a close-up view of the rock target named "Yeehgo" from the SuperCam instrument on NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars. The component images were taken by SuperCam's Remote Micro-Imager (RMI). To be compatible with the rover's software, "Yeehgo" is an alternative spelling of "Yéigo," the Navajo word for diligent. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/ASU/MSSS)

"It is amazing to see SuperCam working so well on Mars," said Roger Wiens, the principal investigator for Perseverance's SuperCam instrument from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. "When we first dreamed up this instrument eight years ago, we worried that we were being way too ambitious. Now it is up there working like a charm."

Perched atop the rover's mast, SuperCam's 12-pound (5.6-kilogram) sensor head can perform five types of analyses to study Mars' geology and help scientists choose which rocks the rover should sample in its search for signs of ancient microbial life. Since the rover's Feb. 18 touchdown, the mission has been performing health checks on all of its systems and subsystems. Early data from SuperCam tests – including sounds from the Red Planet – have been intriguing.

"The sounds acquired are remarkable quality says Naomi Murdoch, a research scientist and lecturer at the ISAE-SUPAERO aerospace engineering school in Toulouse. "It's incredible to think that we're going to do science with the first sounds ever recorded on the surface of Mars!"

On March 9, the mission released three SuperCam audio files. Obtained only about 18 hours after landing, when the mast remained stowed on the rover deck, the first file captures the faint sounds of Martian wind.

The wind is more audible, especially around the 20-second mark, in the second sound file, recorded on the rover's fourth Martian day, or sol.

SuperCam's third file, from Sol 12, includes the zapping sounds of the laser impacting a rock target 30 times at a distance of about 10 feet (3.1 meters). Some zaps sound slightly louder than others, providing information on the physical structure of the targets, such as its relative hardness.

"I want to extend my sincere thanks and congratulations to our international partners at CNES and the SuperCam team for being a part of this momentous journey with us," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "SuperCam truly gives our rover eyes to see promising rock samples and ears to hear what it sounds like when the lasers strike them. This information will be essential when determining which samples to cache and ultimately return to Earth through our groundbreaking Mars Sample Return Campaign, which will be one of the most ambitious feats ever undertaken by humanity."

The SuperCam team also received excellent first datasets from the instrument's visible and infrared (VISIR) sensor as well as its Raman spectrometer. VISIR collects light reflected from the Sun to study the mineral content of rocks and sediments. This technique complements the Raman spectrometer, which uses a green laser beam to excite the chemical bonds in a sample to produce a signal depending on what elements are bonded together, in turn providing insights into a rock's mineral composition.

"This is the first time an instrument has used Raman spectroscopy anywhere other than on Earth! said Olivier Beyssac, CNRS research director at the Institut de Minéralogie, de Physique des Matériaux et de Cosmochimie in Paris. "Raman spectroscopy is going to play a crucial role in characterizing minerals to gain deeper insight into the geological conditions under which they formed and to detect potential organic and mineral molecules that might have been formed by living organisms."

Above: Stitched together from five images, this mosaic shows the calibration target for the SuperCam instrument aboard NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars. The component images were taken by SuperCam's remote micro-imager (RMI). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS)


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