When NASA’s new Perseverance Martian rover launches in a little over a month it will have a small robotic stow-away on board. Ingenuity is a small helicopter, with a fuselage about the size of a softball and two extending rotors that measure about 4 feet across. It was attached to the bottom of the rover’s chassis in April, and NASA recently released details about it’s technically challenging release process.
Before the team of NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers started designing the release mechanism though, they had to decide what Ingenuity’s mission would actually be. Ultimately, the helicopter will serve as the first powered experimental test flight on any extraterrestrial body. NASA is hoping it will be the first of many, leading to future helicopters on Mars that could allow mission scientists to peer into previously inaccessible places, such as craters and cliffs, from the air. If Ingenuity is successful, it could pave the way to many future air based scientific and scouting missions.
Continue reading “Here’s How Perseverance’s Helicopter Sidekick Will Deploy on Mars”
In 2018, NASA decided that the landing site for its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover would be the Jezero Crater. At the time, NASA said the Jezero Crater was one of the “oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer.” That assessment hasn’t changed; in fact it’s gotten stronger.
A new research paper says that the Jezero Crater was formed over time periods long enough to promote both habitability, and the preservation of evidence.
Continue reading “NASA’s Perseverance Rover is Going to Jezero Crater, Which is Looking Better and Better as a Place to Search for Evidence of Past Life on Mars”
Flying low over the surface of Mars. Don’t tell me you haven’t dreamed about it, especially with some of the ‘Mars flyover’ videos that have been produced over the years using data from the orbital missions. And if all goes well – global pandemic not withstanding — a helicopter will be on its way to the Red Planet in just a few months.
Continue reading “Mars Helicopter gets a Name: Ingenuity”
Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity… For decades, NASA’s robotic rovers have explored the surface of Mars looking for clues about its past and subsequent evolution. With every success and discovery, their names became part of the public discourse, infiltrating our vocabulary the same way iconic figures like Armstrong, Einstein, and Hubble did. But what of the next rover that will be sent to explore Mars this summer?
NASA has serious plans for the Mars 2020 rover, the next installment in the Mars Exploration Program after its sister-rover Curiosity. But before this mission can launch and add its impressive capabilities to the hunt for life on Mars (past and present), it needed a proper name. Thanks to Alexander Mather (a grade 7 student from Burke, Virginia), it now has one. From this day forward, the Mars 2020 rover will be known as the Perseverance rover!
Continue reading “Mars 2020’s New Name is… “Perseverance””
This summer, between mid-July and early August, the Mars 2020 rover will launch, reaching Mars by February of 2021. Once it touched down in the Jezero Crater, it will carry on in the footsteps of its predecessor – the Curiosity rover. This will include searching for evidence of Mars’ past habitability and the possible existence of life (past and present), as well as a sample-return mission.
To accomplish these tasks, the Mars 2020 rover will be relying on an advanced suite of instruments. One of these is the SuperCam, which includes a camera, a laser, and spectrometers and is mounted to the rover’s mast (or “head”). Once operational, this instrument will be used to study the chemistry and mineralogy of Martian rocks and (with any luck) find evidence of fossilized microbial life on Mars.
Continue reading “Mars 2020 Will be The Third Time That NASA Has Tried to Send a Microphone to Mars”
NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover is heading to Mars soon to look for fossils. The ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars rover is heading to Mars in the same time-frame to carry out its own investigations into Martian habitability. To meet their mission objectives, the scientists working the missions will need to look at a lot of rocks and uncover and understand the clues those rocks hold.
To help those scientists prepare for the daunting task of analyzing and understanding Martian rocks from 160 million km (100 million miles) away, they’ve gone on a field trip to Australia to study stromatolites.
Continue reading “Scientists Search for Ancient Fossils in Australia, Practicing the Techniques They’ll Use on Mars”
Back in November 2018, NASA announced that the Mars 2020 rover would land in the Jezero Crater. Jezero Crater is a geologically diverse area, with an alluvial fan of sediment deposited by an incoming river. That sediment may contain preserved ancient organic molecules, and the deposit is clearly visible in satellite images of the Crater.
But the crater holds something else that has scientists intrigued, something that doesn’t show up so clearly in visible light images: a “bathtub ring” of carbonates, which scientists think could hold fossils.
Continue reading “Mars 2020 Rover is Going to a Place on Mars That’s Perfect for Preserving Fossils”
Work on the Mars 2020 Rover is heating up as the July/August 2020 launch date approaches. Mission engineers just attached the Mars Helicopter to the belly of the rover, where it will make the journey to Mars. Both the solar-powered helicopter and the Mars Helicopter Delivery System are now attached to the rover.
NASA’s Mars Helicopter will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet. The small rotor-craft only weighs 1.8 kg (4 lbs.) and is made of lightweight materials like carbon fiber and aluminum. It’s largely a technology demonstration mission, and is important to NASA. The overall mission for the Mars 2020 rover won’t depend on the helicopter, but NASA hopes to learn a lot about how to proceed with aircraft on future missions by putting the Mars helicopter through its paces on Mars.
Continue reading “Mars 2020 Rover Gets its Helicopter Sidekick”
NASA has pioneered the development of all kinds of robots and robotic systems. Beyond its0 orbiters and satellites, which have been exploring the planets and bodies of the Solar System for decades, there’s also the growing army of landers and rovers that have been exploring planetary surfaces. Aboard the ISS, they even have floating robots (like CIMON) and humanoid robot helpers – a la Robonaut and Robonaut 2.
Looking to the future, NASA hopes to build robots that can do even more. While the current generation of rovers can drive across the plains and craters of Mars, what if they could explore cliffs, polar ice caps and other hard-to-reach places? That is the purpose behind the Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot (LEMUR) that is currently being developed by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Continue reading “NASA is Building Robots That Can Climb Rock and Ice Cliffs”
For centuries, scientists have speculated about the existence of life on Mars. But it was only within the past 15 years that the search for life (past and present) really began to heat up. It was at this time that methane, an organic molecule that is associated with many forms of life here on Earth (i.e. a “biosignature”) was detected in Mars’ atmosphere.
Since that time, attempts to study Mars’ atmospheric methane have produced varying results. In some cases, methane has been found that was several times its normal concentrations; in others, it was absent. Seeking to answer this mystery, an interdisciplinary team from Aarhus University recently conducted a study where they investigated a possible mechanism for the removal of methane from Mars’ atmosphere.
Continue reading “Where Does Mars’ Methane Go? New Study Provides Possible Answer, with Implications in the Search for Life.”