The six-wheeler science campaign laid the groundwork for the mission’s next major milestone.
NASA is making final preparations for its Perseverance Mars rover to collect its very first Martian rock sample, which future planned missions will transport to Earth. The six-wheeled geologist is looking for a scientifically interesting target in a part of Jezero crater called “Cratered Floor Fractured Rough”.
This milestone of the mission is expected to begin within the next two weeks. Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater on February 18, and NASA launched the science phase of the rover’s mission on June 1, exploring a 4 square kilometer patch of crater soil that may contain the most exposed bedrock layers. deep and oldest in Jezero. .
“When Neil Armstrong took the first sample of the Sea of Tranquility 52 years ago, he initiated a process that would rewrite what humanity knew about the Moon,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA headquarters. “I expect the first Perseverance sample from Jezero Crater, and those that follow, will do the same for Mars. We are on the threshold of a new era of planetary science and discovery.
It took Armstrong 3 minutes and 35 seconds to collect this first sample of the Moon. Perseverance will take around 11 days to complete its first sample, as it must receive its instructions from hundreds of millions of miles away while relying on the most complex and capable, as well as the cleanest mechanism ever sent. in space – the Sampling and caching system.
Precision instruments working together
The sampling sequence begins when the rover places everything needed for sampling within reach of its 2 meter long robotic arm. It will then perform an imaging study, so that the NASA science team can determine the exact location to collect the first sample and a separate target site in the same area for “proximity science.”
“The idea is to get valuable data on the rock we’re about to sample by finding its geological twin and performing a detailed in situ analysis,” the science campaign said. co–drive Vivian Sun of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “On the geologic double, we first use an abrasive drill to scrape the top layers of rock and dust to expose cool, unaltered surfaces, clean it with our gas dust removal tool, and then approach. up close with our turret, SHERLOC, PIXL and WATSON mounted proximity scientific instruments.
SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) and the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering) camera will provide mineral and chemical analysis of the abraded target.
Perseverance’s SuperCam and Mastcam-Z instruments, both located on the rover’s mast, will also participate. As SuperCam shoots its laser at the abraded surface, spectroscopically measuring the resulting plume and collecting other data, Mastcam-Z will capture high resolution images.
Together, these five instruments will enable unprecedented analysis of geological materials on the jobsite.
“Once our pre-coring science is complete, we’ll limit the rover’s tasks to a Martian soil or day,” Sun said. “This will allow the rover to fully recharge its battery for the events of the next day. “
Watch NASA-JPL engineers test the Sample Caching System on the Perseverance Mars rover. Described as one of the most complex robotic systems ever built, the sampling and caching system will collect core samples from the rocky surface of Mars, seal them in tubes, and leave them for a future mission to collect them and bring them back to Earth. Credit: NASA-JPL / Caltech
The sampling day begins with the sample handling arm in the adaptive caching assembly that retrieves a sample tube, heats it, and then inserts it into a drill. A device called a trephine carousel transports the tube and bit to a rotary impact drill on Perseverance’s robotic arm, which will then pierce the intact geologic “twin” of the rock studied in the previous soil, filling the tube with a core of about the size of a piece of chalk.
The Perseverance arm will then move the combination of bits and tubes through the bit carousel, which will transfer it to the adaptive caching assembly, where the sample volume will be measured, photographed, hermetically sealed, and stored. The next time the contents of the sample tube are seen, they will be in a clean room on Earth, for analysis using scientific instruments far too large to be sent to Mars.
“Not all of the samples Perseverance collects will be done in the Quest for Old Life, and we don’t expect this first sample to provide definitive proof in one way or another,” said Ken Farley. , scientist of the Persévérance project, of Caltech. “While the rocks in this geologic unit are not excellent time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and are incredibly valuable in filling gaps in our geologic understanding. of this region – things we will desperately need to know if we find life has ever existed on Mars.
Learn more about the mission
A key focus of Perseverance’s mission to Mars is astrobiology, including looking for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s past geology and climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is the first step in NASA’s Mars Sample Return campaign. Subsequent NASA missions, currently under development in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples on the surface and return them to Earth for further analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s approach to exploring the Moon to Mars, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.