NASA releases video of its Perseverance rover landing on Mars

NASA has released new video footage of its Perseverance rover during the final minutes of its entry, descent, and landing (EDL) to Mars’ surface on February 19, 2021 (February 18 in the United States) as the spacecraft plummeted, parachuted, and rocketed toward the Martian surface.

Humankind’s most intimate view of a Mars landing begins about 230 seconds after the spacecraft entered the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere at 20,100kph.

The video opens in black, with the camera lens still covered within the parachute compartment.

Within less than a second, the spacecraft’s parachute deploys and transforms from a compressed 46-by-66 centimetre cylinder of nylon, Technora, and Kevlar into a fully inflated 21.5-metre-wide canopy – the largest ever sent to Mars.

Enormous force

The tens of thousands of pounds of force that the parachute generates in such a short period stresses both the parachute and the Perseverance rover.

The video also captures the heat shield dropping away, after protecting Perseverance from scorching temperatures during its entry into the Martian atmosphere.

The downward view from the rover sways gently like a pendulum as the descent stage, with Perseverance attached, hangs from the back shell and parachute.

The Martian landscape quickly pitches as the descent stage – the rover’s free-flying ‘jetpack’, which decelerates using rocket engines and then lowers the rover on cables to the surface – breaks free, its eight thrusters engaging to put distance between it and the now-discarded back shell and the parachute.

Then, 80 seconds and 2,130 metres later, the cameras capture the descent stage performing a sky crane manouvre over the landing site – the plume of its rocket engines kicking up dust and small rocks that have likely been in place for billions of years.

The Perseverance mission to Mars is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

In another historic first a microphone on the rover has also provides the first audio recording of sounds from Mars.

 

Right from the time that the rover’s giant parachute deployed high over the Martian surface, to slow down the descent of the rover,  Perseverance’s extensive still and video camera system captured the entirety of the descent process, showing some of the rover’s intense ride to Mars’ Jezero Crater.

The video footage from the high-definition cameras aboard the spacecraft begins 11km above Mars’ surface, including showing the supersonic deployment of the biggest parachute ever sent to another planet, and ends with the rover’s successful touchdown in the crater.

Failed device

A customised microphone attached to the rover failed to collect usable data during the descent to the Martian surface, but a commercial off-the-shelf microphone survived the highly dynamic descent to the surface and obtained sounds from Jezero Crater on February 20, 2021.

About 10 seconds into the 60-second recording, a Martian breeze is audible for a few seconds, as are mechanical sounds of the rover operating on the Martian surface.

The footage ends with Perseverance’s aluminum wheels making contact with Mars’ surface at a speed of 2.6 kph, after which pyrotechnically fired blades sever the cables connecting the rover to the still-hovering descent stage.

The descent stage then climbs and accelerates away in a preplanned flyaway manoeuvre.

 

First panorama image

NASA has also released its Mars mission’s first panorama image of Perseverance’s landing location, taken by the two Navigation Cameras located on its mast.

Five commercial off-the-shelf cameras located on three different spacecraft components collected the imagery.

Two cameras on the back shell, which encapsulated the rover on its journey, took pictures of the parachute inflating.

A camera on the descent stage provided a downward view – including the top of the rover – while two cameras on the rover chassis offered both upward and downward perspectives.

The six-wheeled robotic astrobiologist, the fifth rover the agency has landed on Mars, is currently undergoing an extensive checkout of all its systems and instruments.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Administrator for Science, said: “This video of Perseverance’s descent is the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit.

“It should become mandatory viewing for young women and men who not only want to explore other worlds and build the spacecraft that will take them there, but also want to be part of the diverse teams achieving all the audacious goals in our future.,” he added.

‘Front-row view’

Michael Watkins, Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the Mars 2020 mission for the agency, said: “Now we finally have a front-row view to what we call ‘the seven minutes of terror’ while landing on Mars.

“From the explosive opening of the parachute to the landing rockets’ plume sending dust and debris flying at touchdown, it’s absolutely awe-inspiring,” said Watkins.

According to Dave Gruel, lead engineer for Perseverance’s EDL camera and microphone subsystem at JPL: “We put the EDL camera system onto the spacecraft not only for the opportunity to gain a better understanding of our spacecraft’s performance during entry, descent, and landing, but also because we wanted to take the public along for the ride of a lifetime – landing on the surface of Mars.

“We know the public is fascinated with Mars exploration, so we added the EDL Cam microphone to the vehicle because we hoped it could enhance the experience, especially for visually-impaired space fans, and engage and inspire people around the world.”

The rover team continues its initial inspection of Perseverance’s systems and its immediate surroundings.

Tests

On February 22, the team checked out five of the rover’s seven instruments and took the first weather observations with the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer instrument.

In the coming days, a 360-degree panorama of Jezero by the MastcamZ should be transmitted down, providing the highest resolution look at the road ahead.

A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life.

The rover will characterise the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), will send a spacecraft to Mars to collect the sealed Martian rock and regolith samples from the Martian surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.