NASA’s endurance Mars Rover landing will be a must-see TV

An illustration of endurance during its descent to the surface of Mars.


NASA is less than a week away from lands a shiny new robot on the surface of Mars, and for the first time we will be able to see and hear what it is like to touch another world.

Endurance is due to land in the Jezero crater on Thursday 18 February and will be the first artificial object to land on the surface since Mars Insight-lander in 2018 and the first rover since Curiosity touched down in 2012.

But the new rover on the block carries more audiovisual equipment than its predecessors to capture parts of the central entrance, descent and landing or EDL phase of the mission. A camera mounted on the rear shell of the spacecraft is pointed up and will be able to get a picture of the parachutes that will be inserted during descent to slow down endurance when it enters landing. Below this is a downward facing camera on the descent stage, which further brakes and orients the rover to landing.

Finally, the rover itself is equipped with cameras and a microphone. All in all, this suite of technology should give us the most detailed images and sound from a landing on Mars yet.

“We will be able to see ourselves land for the first time on another planet,” Lori Glaze, head of the planetary science division for NASA’s science mission directorate, told reporters during a briefing last month.


Endurance carries its own audiovisual rigging.


The entire EDL phase lasts only about seven minutes, but EDL leader Allen Chen calls it “the most critical and dangerous part of the mission.”

Endurance will hit the Martian atmosphere, running at nearly 12,000 miles per hour (19,312 kilometers per hour) and sweeping across the sky as it begins to slow down. A 70-foot (21-meter-diameter) parachute is installed to brake it further. The heat shield is then released and radar is activated to help it determine its own location.

At an altitude of about one kilometer (1.5 kilometers), the descent module fires its engines, and a new terrain-relative navigation system, or TRN, kicks in to identify a safe landing site. TRN is basically a kind of computer view that allows the spacecraft to look at the terrain below and match it with maps in its database.

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The system is lowered to a literal crawl, and then it’s time for “sky crane”, the same kind of hovering landing system that the Curiosity rover used, allowing endurance to basically sink gently down to the surface.

This whole process will be fully automated without input from mission control due to the delay in sending radio signals back and forth from Mars to Earth.

Endurance carries a number of scientific instruments to help search for signs of ancient life in our neighboring countries, to collect samples that will be returned to Earth, and to test some technologies for future Mars missions.

It also has a small helicopter.

Robots have spent years rolling around Mars, which is pretty cool, but for the first time, NASA will use one small helicopter, called ingenuity, to try to fly around the planet.

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But before Ingenuity can fly, Perseverance must first nail its landing. While its cameras and microphones capture much of this whole process, there is not a live feed that we are used to from the International Space Station or most launches from Earth. This is because the data relay Perseverance will use during EDL is slower than even old dial-up connections.

After landing, however, it will be able to use the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to send images back to Earth. Chen estimates that we will at least be able to see some low-resolution images of the environment around endurance on the surface shortly after landing. We may have to wait a few days for more images and sound to paint the full picture of the landing process.

However, we want live feeds from Mission Control, which delivered some of the more iconic images from Curiosity landing. (Mohawk guy, anyone?) Of course, COVID-19 protocols will apply to mission control, but even the pandemic is unlikely to dampen the celebration of a successful landing.

“I do not think COVID will be able to prevent us from jumping up and down and clenching our fists,” said Deputy Project Manager Matt Wallace. “You’ll see a lot of happy people no matter what, once we get this thing on the surface for sure.”

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