A successful take-off for Perseverance on 30 July from Florida. NASA’s rover, equipped with the French SuperCam laser camera, has therefore started a seven-month journey to the red thus Landing is scheduled for 18 February 2021.
After the successful flights of the United Arab Emirates’ Mars Hope, and China’s Tianwen-1, March 2020 with Perseverance is the third mission to the fourth planet to take advantage of this 2020 launch window (favourable launch periods for Mars occur every 26 months).
ATLAS V SENDS PERSEVERANCE TO MARS
To solve unforeseen technical problems in preparing the Atlas V launcher of the United Launch Alliance company (responsible for providing NASA’s launch service), the flight date was postponed from 17 to 30 July. Under the auspices of 80% favourable weather, the countdown went without difficulty and at 7.50 a.m. Florida time, Atlas V left the SLC-41 launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. Less than 12 minutes later, Perseverance was in orbit around the Earth, still attached to the second stage, Centaur.
A little more than 45 minutes after take-off, Centaur’s engine kicked in again to give the necessary propulsion for the journey to Mars. Then Perseverance (housed in its transport capsule) separated from Centaur to sail solo towards its destination. The voyage should last seven months. Arrival in the Jezero crater is scheduled for 18 February 2021.
Below is the live broadcast organised by the French space agency, CNES (take-off at 1:10:35).
SUPERCAM, THE FRENCH CONTRIBUTION
CNES is in fact a key partner on Perseverance’s Mars 2020 mission. The French agency supplies NASA with the laser camera section of the SuperCam instrument which can analyse soil and rocks remotely.
The CNES video below explains the value of this instrument.
SuperCam was largely designed and manufactured by Toulouse’s IRAP (Institute for Research into Astrophysics and Planetology) with a laser produced by the company, Thales Angenieux. Moreover, French-American cooperation on SuperCam goes further than supplying the instrument. In fact, it will be jointly piloted by American and French teams. The same goes for scientific analysis of the data, as for ChemCam, the similar laser camera on the Curiosity rover which has been exploring the surface of Mars since 2012.
It should be noted that Curiosity enabled us to determine that the red planet had been able to support life a long time ago (4 billion years back). Perseverance will consequently busy itself with the following question: Was there life on Mars? The SuperCam, with its capacity to analyse the surface at up to a distance of 7 metres, will be used to select the most interesting rocks or areas of soil to take samples with other instruments which will look for signs of past life. Perseverance will also be able to put some samples into sealed tubes which will be deposited on the ground. Later, another rover, called Fetch Rover, will go to recover them so they can be sent into orbit around Mars. There, a space craft will have the job of bringing them back to Earth. This return of samples, a combined effort of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), should conclude in 2031 and Perseverance represents its first stage.