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NASA’s Mars Work Plan: Flying in the Spring, Sampling in the Summer

Feb. 20 , 2021 (EIRNS)—NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has released an exciting, high-resolution still image of Perseverance’s descent onto Martian soil, taken from video footage of the entry, descent and landing (EDL) which is still being relayed to Earth and processed. In the post-landing briefing, members of the team said they hoped those videos—the first ever to provide “a front-row seat” for an EDL on an astronomical body—will be ready for release as soon as this Monday.

Note that, unlike with past rovers, the majority of Perseverance’s cameras capture images in color.

Jennifer Trosper, Deputy Project Manager in charge of Surface Development and Operations for the Perseverance mission, outlined the general schedule of activities for the rover and its “Ingenuity” helicopter planned from now until September—with the obvious caveat that everything is subject to change. The first four to five Sols (Martian days, only about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day) are being spent stabilizing power, thermal and communications systems: orienting the high-gain antenna, ensuring all the “critical path infrastructure” is coordinated and in good working order. That accomplished, new upgraded software worked out while the spacecraft was flying to Mars, will be uploaded, hopefully around Sol 4, and then several days are required to transit to that new software—very carefully, she emphasized—to ensure there are no glitches. After a few other steps, the first drive will be undertaken, this one, only some 5 meters, and then back—perhaps some three weeks (Martian time) from now.

Those preliminaries met, Percy will set out to find a good “heli-site,” which provides the conditions needed (flatness, rock-size, etc.) to test Ingenuity. Since the helicopter is stored underneath the rover, blocking use of the auto-navigation system, helicopter testing is the mission’s first task, and traversing to the testing site must be done carefully. Since where an appropriate site will be found is, of course, unknown at this time, when it will be reached is also unknown. Once arrived at, it might take up to 10 Sols to release Ingenuity, move the rover away, etc., and then some 30 Sols are expected for carrying out the five planned tests of Ingenuity.

After the rover’s auto-navigation system is then tested, Percy heads off to wherever the Science Team chooses to begin the first sampling of the mission.

Trosper summarized the plan: to be flying in the spring, and sampling in the summer—but not to be surprised if the tasks go slower or faster.

Around the conjuncture in September, when communication with the spacecraft will be lost because the Sun will be between Earth and Mars, she added, the JPL team will finish off some new software to boost Percy’s efficiency and operational capabilities, which when uploaded, should make the rover more autonomous and smarter, and speed up its activities further.

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