Atlas 5 launches Mars 2020 mission

James Marshall
August 1, 2020

NASA's next-generation Mars rover Perseverance has blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas 5 rocket on a $US2.4 billion ($3.36 billion) mission to search for traces of potential past life on Earth's planetary neighbour.

The Mars 2020 spacecraft separated from the rocket's Centaur upper stage 57 minutes after liftoff and five minutes after a second burn of the Centaur that placed the spacecraft on a trajectory toward Mars. "We have started our cruise phase, and for the next seven months, we'll make sure the rover is healthy and happy, and we'll tweak its trajectory to make sure it's on the right path to Mars". We are working to configure the ground stations to match the strength of the spacecraft signal. Six other spacecraft are exploring the planet from orbit: three from the United States, two from Europe and one from India.

The rover will land in a 28-mile wide crater called the Jezero Crater north of the Martian equator, NASA said.

A replica of the Mars rover Perseverance is displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

NASA already boasts of 8 successful Mars landings.

Much of that additional payload, and complexity, is for the rover's system to collect samples of Martian rocks. The rover will store half-ounce (15-gram) rock samples in dozens of super-sterilized titanium tubes.

UK Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Amanda Solloway said: "UK scientists and researchers continue to play an indispensable role in the most impressive worldwide space missions, helping to further our understanding of our extraordinary Solar System". "For the first time in history, we're doing a Mars sample return mission". And the rover isn't travelling alone-Perseverance is carrying a four-pound helicopter attached to its belly.

This marked NASA's ninth journey to the Martian surface.

If Thursday's launch goes as planned, the rover should reach Mars by February 2021. The thin Martian atmosphere - 99% less dense than Earth's - poses a challenge to Ingenuity, which was created to be light, with rotor blades that are larger and spin more quickly than what would be needed for a helicopter of its mass on Earth.

From his base at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, Matt Wallace, the mission's deputy project manager, said in an online update that the spacecraft is healthy, and well and truly on its way to Mars.

Baez added it took a disciplined, focused and creative effort to allow the rover to launch during the first opportunity of the first launch window for Perseverance.

The robotic rover - a car-sized six-wheeled vehicle carrying seven scientific instruments - also is scheduled to deploy a small helicopter on Mars and try out equipment for future human missions to the fourth planet from the sun.

Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.

To definitively answer the profound question of whether life exists - or ever existed - beyond Earth, the samples must be analyzed by the best electron microscopes and other instruments, far too big to fit on a spacecraft, he said.

The liftoff of Perseverance is the third Mars exploration of the global community this year following China's first Mars mission, Tianwen-1, and the first Mars orbiter of the United Arab Emirates earlier this month.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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