Engineers recharge Ingenuity’s batteries on its way to Mars

Engineers have successfully completed their first in-flight maintenance recharge of the batteries on Perseverance’s small test helicopter Ingenuity.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter received a checkout and recharge of its power system on Friday, Aug. 7, one week into its near seven-month journey to Mars with the Perseverance rover. This marks the first time the helicopter has been powered up and its batteries have been charged in the space environment.

During the eight-hour operation, the performance of the rotorcraft’s six lithium-ion batteries was analyzed as the team brought their charge level up to 35%. The project has determined a low charge state is optimal for battery health during the cruise to Mars.

They plan to do these partial recharges about once every two weeks during the trip to Mars to keep the battery charged the optimal amount.

About a month after Perseverance has landed in February 2020, it will find a large flat area to deploy Ingenuity, then move away. The helicopter will then begin a 30 day test program to see if it will be able to fly in the very thin Martian atmosphere, only about 1% as thick as Earth’s.

Perseverance’s planned journey in Jezero Crater

Jezero Crater delta
Jezero Crater delta

If all goes right, on February 18, 2021 the rover Perseverance will gently settle down onto the floor of Jezero Crater on Mars. The image to the right is probably the most reproduced of this site, as it shows the spectacular delta that some scientists believe might be hardened mud that had once flowed like liquid or lava from the break in the rim to the west.

They hope to put Perseverance down to the southeast of that delta, as shown in the overview map below.
» Read more

Live stream of Perseverance launch tomorrow

I have embedded below the fold NASA’s live stream channel for tomorrow’s 7:50 am (Eastern) launch of the Perseverance rover to Mars on a ULA Atlas-5 rocket.

At present the channel is carrying NASA’s programming leading up to the launch. The actual live stream for the launch begins at 7 am (Eastern).

The weather looks good, and there appear to be no issues, as of 11 pm (Eastern).

» Read more

Launch update on Mars missions

The launch status of the three missions to Mars:

First, the launch of UAE’s Hope orbiter by Mitsubishi’s H-2A rocket has been pushed back to July 20th due to bad weather. Their launch window extends to August 3rd, so they still have two weeks before it closes.

Second, China has rolled to the launchpad the Long March 5 rocket, with the Tienwen-1 orbiter/lander/rover. Though they have only said that the launch will occur between July 20th and July 25th, based on past operations, they usually launch six days after roll-out, putting the launch date as July 23.

China has also provided some clarity as to Tienwen-1’s landing site on Mars. According to this Nature Astronomy paper [pdf], published on July 13th, their primary landing site is in the northern lowland plains of Utopia Planitia. The Tienwen-1 science team has also considered [pdf] the northern lowland plains in Chryse Planitia, on the other side of Mars.

Since they will spend two to three months in Mars orbit before sending the lander and rover to the surface, it could very well be that they won’t make a final decision until they get into orbit.

Finally, on July 7th Perseverance was mounted on top of its Atlas-5 rocket for its July 30th launch. Its launch window closes on August 15.

Perseverance launch delayed to July 30, 2020

Not good: Because of an issue with the Atlas 5 rocket, NASA and ULA have decided to delay again the launch of the next Mars rover Perseverance from July 22nd to July 30th.

“Due to launch vehicle processing delays in preparation for spacecraft mate operations, NASA and United Launch Alliance have moved the first launch attempt of the Mars 2020 mission to no earlier than July 30,” NASA said. “A liquid oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the Wet Dress Rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate.”

ULA performed the Wet Dress Rehearsal on June 22. The exercise involved rolling the Perseverance rover’s Atlas 5 launcher out of its vertical integration hangar to Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad, then loading the rocket with kerosene, liquid hydrogen, and liquid oxygen propellants. The launch team practiced countdown procedures, testing the Atlas 5’s systems before halting the pre-launch sequence seconds before ignition of the rocket’s RD-180 main engine.

Their official launch window extends to August 11th, though they could still launch as late as August 15th and get to their landing site in Jezero Crater on Mars.

This is the third delay. The first involved a faulty crane and the second contamination issues in the rover’s clean room. Now an issue with an oxygen sensor. Let us hope their are no more, and that the weather then cooperates. It they don’t launch by August 15th the launch will then be postponed for two whole years.

Perseverance launch delayed two days

NASA and ULA have agreed to delay the launch of the new Mars rover Perseverance two days, from July 20th to July 22nd, because of “a contamination concern.”

NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance was scheduled to launch toward the Red Planet on July 20 from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. But a problem cropped up as engineers worked to encapsulate the rover in the nosecone of its Atlas V rocket, which was built by United Launch Alliance.

“NASA and United Launch Alliance are now targeting Wednesday, July 22, for launch of the Mars 2020 mission due to a processing delay encountered during encapsulation activities of the spacecraft,” NASA officials said in an update. “Additional time was needed to resolve a contamination concern in the ground support lines in NASA’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF).”

This contamination likely relates to their effort to keep the rover free from Earth biology.

The official launch window closes on August 11th, though they can still launch as late as August 15th and get to their targeted landing site in Jezero Crater on Mars.

Perseverance: update on launch rehearsal and helicopter

Two news stories today about the launch of the United States’ next Mars rover, Perservance.

First, ULA yesterday successfully completed a dress rehearsal countdown with the Atlas 5 rocket that will launch Perseverance on July 20 at 9:15 am (Eastern)..

The rover will be mounted onto the rocket at the end of this week.

Second, JPL provided this press release describing how Perseverance’s test helicopter Ingenuity will be deployed on the Martian surface, where it will then test to see if such helicopters will work in the Martian atmosphere.

Sixty Martian days (dubbed sols) after landing in Jezero Crater on February 18, Perseverance will find a nice large flat area and deploy the helicopter six sols later. The helicopter will then begin its 30-sol test program. If it is found to work, future rovers will almost certainly be equipped with such helicopters, acting as scouts able to go places the rover cannot.

Help scientists plan Curiosity’s future travels

The Curiosity science team is asking the help of ordinary citizens in improving the software it uses to plan Curiosity’s future travels.

Using the online tool AI4Mars to label terrain features in pictures downloaded from the Red Planet, you can train an artificial intelligence algorithm to automatically read the landscape.

Is that a big rock to the left? Could it be sand? Or maybe it’s nice, flat bedrock. AI4Mars, which is hosted on the citizen science website Zooniverse, lets you draw boundaries around terrain and choose one of four labels. Those labels are key to sharpening the Martian terrain-classification algorithm called SPOC (Soil Property and Object Classification).

The goal is not to have citizens plan the rover’s route, but to use their judgments to refine the software that the scientists and engineers use to plan the route. This refinement will also be applicable to Perseverance when it gets to Jezero Crater in February 2021.

Isidis Basin, on whose margin Perseverance will roam

Pedestal craters in Isidis Basin
Click for full image.

Overview map

Today’s cool image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, highlights the floor of one of Mars’ largest basins, dubbed Isidis Planitia, and located at the transition zone between the planet’s northern lowland plains and the southern cratered highlands.

The overview map below of Isidis Basin provides some context. The white box shows where this particular image is located. Jezero Crater, indicated by the red circle (which is also about the size of the crater), is where the rover Perseverance is going to land and roam come February 2021, should all go well. For scale, Isidis is about the size of the eastern half of the United States. If Chicago was located at Jezero Crater, Baltimore would be on the basin’s eastern edge, at around 4 o’clock.

This particular section of the full photo, taken on April 5, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), shows many features very typical of the floor of Isidis Basin, which also immediately reveal a great deal about its possible history.

In this small snippet we can see what at first glance appear to be pedestal craters standing up like mesas, with ordinary craters scattered about on that lower surrounding terrain. Clearly, if these are pedestal craters they had to have been created first, and then over a very long time erosion processes ate away at that plain, leaving these pedestals (which had become resistant to erosion because the impact had packed their material together and made it harder) behind as mesas.

Then, after this period of erosion was complete enough additional time was required for at least one or two rounds of cratering to occur, leaving behind the many more younger craters on the plain floor, many of which are now partly buried by dust and sand.

The problem is that these mesas are almost certainly not pedestal craters, despite their appearance. » Read more

Perseverance’s helicopter named Ingenuity

After sifting through the 28,000 name suggestions submitted by K through 12 American students for naming the Mars rover Perseverance, NASA has chosen to use a suggestion from an Alabama high school student to name the rover’s prototype test helicopter Ingenuity.

As a technology demonstration, Ingenuity is a high-risk, high-reward experiment. The helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which is preparing for launch in July or August. For several months following the rover’s landing, Ingenuity will remain encapsulated in a protective cover to shield it from debris during entry, descent and landing. When the timing in the rover mission is right, Ingenuity will be deployed to stand and operate on its own on the surface of the Red Planet. If the 4-pound (2-kilogram), solar-powered craft – a combination of specially designed components and off-the-shelf parts – survives the cold Martian nights during its pre-flight checkout, the team will proceed with testing.

If successful during its 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) experimental flight test window, the small craft will prove that powered flight can be achieved at Mars, enabling future Mars missions to better utilize second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.

The student, Vaneeza Rupani, had proposed the name for the rover. She instead is honored for the helicopter.

NASA dubs next Mars rover “Perseverance”

NASA today announced that they have named their next Mars rover, due to launch in July, “Perseverance.”

The name was announced Thursday by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, during a celebration at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Zurbuchen was at the school to congratulate seventh grader Alexander Mather, who submitted the winning entry to the agency’s “Name the Rover” essay contest, which received 28,000 entries fromK-12 students from every U.S. state and territory.

“Alex’s entry captured the spirit of exploration,” said Zurbuchen. “Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it’s going to make amazing discoveries. It’s already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today – processing for launch. Alex and his classmates are the Artemis Generation, and they’re going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can’t wait to see that nameplate on Mars.”

I truly hope that the rover is well-named, and lives a very long life on Mars, long enough that it is still in use the day an human arrives to touch it again.