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  • Humans love shooting robots at Mars. Since 1960 there have been a total of 56 missions

  • to the red rusty planet. Right now, there are six active satellites orbiting the planet,

  • and down on the surface, the InSight lander and Curiosity rover are still going about

  • their missions. They may have some company soon, as we've set our sights on Mars again

  • with NASA's Perseverance rover due to launch later in the summer of 2020. So with so many

  • missions to Mars already, what will Perseverance do that the previous 56 missions didn't?

  • Well, hopefully get to Mars safely, of course. That's kind of step one for any extra-planetary

  • excursion, but plenty of past missions failed by missing the planet, crashing into the planet,

  • or just didn't get off our own planet entirely. Remember those 56 missions? Well fewer than

  • half were successful. And of course, once Perseverance gets there, it has to land. Perseverance

  • is very similar to Curiosity, so the famous seven-minutes-of-terror landing technique

  • from 2012, including the sky crane final stage, will see action a second time. Reusing successful

  • designs and spare hardware helps save money, time, and reduces risk. This time, though,

  • some upgraded tech will make the landing more accurate than ever. The first is a range trigger,

  • also known as a “smart chute.” Curiosity opened its parachute as soon as the heat shield

  • slowed the craft to a desired speed, but Perseverance will deploy its chute earlier or later depending

  • on how far it is from its landing target. The second improvement to Perseverance's

  • landing is terrain-relative navigation. Using a bevy of onboard cameras to study the rapidly

  • approaching surface and comparing it to maps of the landing site, the rover can divert

  • itself from hazards and land in a safer area. All the additional cameras and a microphone

  • onboard the rover mean engineers will get a better understanding of what's happening

  • during a risky and crucial part of the mission, but they also mean that we, the general public,

  • can be right there along for the ride. We are going to get to virtually strap in for

  • the seven minutes of terror and I, for one, cannot wait! These improvements will shrink

  • the target area the rover will land in by over 50%, down to an ellipse about 10 kilometers

  • in diameter. With a shrunken landing area, the rover can land a couple of kilometers

  • closer to its prime work site. That may not sound like much, but considering the slow

  • and careful pace the rover has to traverse the planet, it could save as much as a year

  • in commute time, effectively getting more useful time out of the mission's limited

  • lifespan. The new rover will also feature updated software that allows for more autonomous

  • driving and resource management, as well as improved wheels after Curiosity's deteriorated

  • faster than expected. HopefullyPerseveranceturns out to be a fitting name. There's

  • another benefit to the precision landing, and it is a game-changer for Mars missions.

  • Perseverance can finally study more interesting parts of Mars that were previously off limits

  • because of perilous terrain. Places that, because of that terrain, may still harbor

  • evidence of ancient microbial life. The mission's chosen landing site is Jezero Crater. While

  • it's dry today, scientists believe it was once an ancient river delta, and thus could

  • have supported life. Sniffing out biosignatures is Perseverance's main mission, and its

  • onboard suite of tools reflects that. It has a larger turret on the end of its robotic

  • arm, that houses a camera, two science instruments, and a drill to collect rock cores. And of

  • course, scientists took this opportunity to give the instruments amusing acronyms, like

  • MOXIE, the experiment for producing oxygen, and the SHERLOC UV laser that can detect organic

  • compounds. Inside the rover's body is a workspace dedicated to caching those core

  • samples in tubes, that the rover will then leave on the surface of Mars. “Why would

  • it leave them behind?!” I hear you ask. Because Perseverance is actually the first

  • of a new type of mission. Thanks to the landing techniques it will pioneer, future missions

  • will be able to land close to this precious cache of samples, collect them, and return

  • them to Earth where they can be studied in labsEverything has been building to this.

  • The lessons learned from failures, misses, crashes, the data from orbiters, the experience

  • from past successful landings, all of it brings us to Perseverance. After 60 years of launches,

  • humans may be just two more steps away from laying our hands on Martian soil, and knowing

  • that we're not alone.

  • Hey, remember Curiosity's wheels, and how they had that odd cutout pattern? It has a

  • useful purpose, but it also spells out JPL in morse code. Yeah, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

  • has been stamping its name all over Mars for the last eight years.

  • If you want to check out more on how Perseverance will try and make oxygen on Mars, check out

  • this Focal Point episode on MOXIEBe sure to subscribe to Seeker and thanks for watching.

Humans love shooting robots at Mars. Since 1960 there have been a total of 56 missions

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The New Mars Rover Is The Most Advanced Yet, Here’s Why

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    Summer posted on 2020/09/16
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