The planned time of the “seven minutes of terror” in the landing of NASA on Mars

Madrid

Updated:18/02/2021 01:20h

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The mission ‘Mars 2020‘lands this Thursday on Mars with the intention of landing NASA’s fifth rover, the’Perseverance‘, in the Martian domains and find the answer to the question of whether life is exclusive to Earth. After a trip of almost 500 million kilometers, the engineers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are busy in the final preparations of what is the “most ambitious rover mission to date” of the US agency, and that will experience one of its high points when landing on the cráter Lake about the 9.55 pm (Spanish time), if everything goes according to plan.

But first, we will have to overcome the famous “seven minutes of terror” in which the probe will have to operate autonomously, due to the delay in communications between Mars and Earth. This is the minute by minute that NASA has prepared to successfully complete the most precise and risky landing on the red planet to date.

Scheduled landing time

The live broadcast -that, for the first time in NASA history, will be also broadcast in Spanish– will start at 2:30 pm EST (8:30 pm Spanish time) on February 18, and will be available online worldwide [podrás seguir el lanzamiento desde ABC.es con los comentarios del equipo de ABC Ciencia en tiempo real]. From this point on, the engineers have come up with a rough schedule in which the key maneuvers will occur:

Cruise stage separation: the part of the ship that has been flying through space with ‘Perseverance’ and the ‘Ingenuity’ helicopter attached to its ‘belly’, will separate from the entry capsule at approximately 3:38 pm EST (9:38 pm Spanish time).

Atmospheric input: The spacecraft is expected to reach the top of the Martian atmosphere traveling at about 19,500 kilometers per hour just ten minutes later, at 3:48 pm EST (9:48 pm Spanish time).

Maximum heating point– The friction of the atmosphere will heat the bottom of the probe to temperatures of approximately 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 1,300 degrees Celsius) at 3:49 pm EST (9:49 pm Spanish time). The probe will be able to withstand the heat thanks to its heat shield, which will also serve to slow the spacecraft to less than 1,600 km per hour.

Parachute deployment: the ship will deploy its parachute at supersonic speed around the 3:52 pm EST (9:52 pm Spanish time). The exact time of deployment is based on the new Range Trigger technology, which calculates the distance to the landing target instead of the navigation speed, as was done with Curiosity.

Heat shield separation: the lower protective part of the capsule will come off 20 seconds later deployment of the parachute. This allows the rover to use radar to determine how far it is from the ground and to use its terrain-related navigation technology to find a safe landing site in Jezero crater.

Rear shell separation– The rear half of the capsule that is attached to the parachute will separate from the rover and its ‘jetpack’ (known as the descent stage) at 3:54 pm EST (9:54 pm Spanish time). The jetpack will use retro rockets to slow down and fly to the landing site.

Landing– The spacecraft descent stage, using the overhead crane maneuver, will lower the rover to the surface with nylon straps. The rover is expected to land on the surface of Mars at the speed of human walking (approximately 2.7 kilometers per hour) around 3:55 pm EST (9:55 pm Spanish time), at which point it will also cut the strings.

The teams on the ground will receive the signal that everything has gone well with eleven minutes of delay. Success is confirmed by a series of parameters and a low resolution image will arrive shortly thereafter. Also, for the first time, the sounds of the landing will be recorded.

Possible setbacks

From NASA they warn that there are various factors that could affect the schedule established, including properties of the martian atmosphere, which are difficult to predict until the ship flies through it.

Mission controllers may also not be able to confirm these milestones at the indicated time due to the complexity of deep space communications. “The flow of detailed engineering data (called telemetry) in near real time is based on a new type of relay capability added last year to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO),” they say. from the us space agency. Engineers expect the information to return to Earth directly via NASA’s Deep Space Network and two other ground antennas until shortly before landing.

It is important to emphasize that rover can land safely on Mars without communication with Earth: «’Perseverance’ has pre-programmed landing instructions and great autonomy. Additional communication events are planned in the hours and days after landing.

Once on the surface, one of the first activities of Perseverance will be taking photographs of your new home and transmit them to Earth. Over the next few days, engineers will also check the status of the rover and deploy the remote sensing mast (also known as its “head”) so you can take more pictures. However, it will take more than a month for the team to thoroughly inspect the rover and load new flight software to prepare for the search for ancient life on Mars.

During the same period, the team Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will make sure your little but mighty robot is ready for the first attempt at motorized and controlled aerodynamic flight on another planet. “The ‘Ingenuity’ team will be side by side with the ‘Perseverance’ team on the day of landing,” he says. MiMi Aung, ‘Ingenuity’ project manager at JPL. “We cannot wait until the rover and helicopter are safely on the surface of Mars and ready for action.”

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