Thanks to several cameras, NASA has captured in unprecedented detail the arrival of the Perseverance rover on Mars. Beyond its spectacular side, these images will enable engineers to refine landing procedures on the red planet.
On 19 February 2021, the American agency conducted a ninth successful landing on Mars and the fifth for a rover. At a little more than a tonne, Perseverance is the biggest mobile device to land on the surface of the fourth planet. It is also bedecked with cameras and sensors intended to capture how this delicate manoeuvre proceeded.
A SPECTACULAR ARRIVAL
On 22 February, after recovering the data transmitted from Mars by its rover, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was able to put together on film the EDL sequence (for Entry, Descent and Landing), also known as the «7 minutes of terror».
Below, a first version of this arrival. In succession we can see the opening of the 21-m parachute at about 1500 km/h at around an altitude of 10 km, the release of the thermal shield, then the phase of the flying crane, Sky Crane, which concludes with the descent of Perseverance on nylon slings to land on the surface.
No synthetic images are used in this sequence. Everything comes from the onboard cameras (except for views of the JPL Control Centre, of course).
Below, another, just as fascinating, version.
A TREASURE FOR ENGINEERS
This unprecedented sequence, since we had never been able to document a Martian landing in this way, goes far beyond its spectacular appearance. At the NASA press conference on 22 February, engineers explained that while the film of the events closely followed what JPL’s team of men and women had envisaged, there were some surprises which everyone was going to study closely. The aim? To improve and even refine the process of arriving on Mars, aiming for greater precision, if possible, and also, potentially, a heavier payload. Indeed, a few kilograms less for the landing system could allow them to carry an extra scientific instrument (or more) on future missions.
FIRST PANORAMA OF JEZERO
On 19 February, the rover’s mast was also raised into position. Using the navigation cameras which it houses (located under the French laser camera, SuperCam), several photos were taken and combined to obtain a first panorama of the Jezero crater.
This 360-degree panorama will enable scientists and controllers on the ground to get their bearings in Perseverance’s arrival area. After starting up the instruments and other technical checks, the rover will begin to move around in its search for traces of past life.