Fantastic news that NASA's Mars 2020 mission has been declared a complete success. Launched on July 30th on an Atlas V rocket, the unmanned spacecraft reached Mars on the 18th of February.
The Mars 2020 spacecraft was composed of a cruise stage, an aeroshell descent vehicle, and a Sky Crane, a device that delivered its passenger craft to the Martian surface. These craft are Perseverence and Ingenuity, currently active on the planet's surface. Perseverence is Mars rover, based on the design of the previously successful Curiosity, but with multiple improvements and upgrades. Among other upgrades is a Norwegian radar system, and a new rechargeable battery system that will help the system stay functional when solar panels are not an option. Ingenuity is the most remarkable new addition, a robotic helicopter that will act as a scouter for Perseverence and find areas of interest for the rover to explore.
The mission of the Perseverence-Ingenuity team is to explore the Jezero crater, a region which is believed to have held water around 3.5 billion years ago. As well as looking for signs of prehistoric water, the rover is looking for any signs of biological activity in the past. Jezero features a prominent delta, not only suggesting the existence of flowing water in the past but also a prime environment for preserving biomatter, should any exist. In 2026, a fetch rover will launch to collect the samples collected by Perseverence and return them to Earth.
Perseverence sent back its first photo of the Martian surface yesterday, and is happily getting on with its work on the planet. It's not the only mission to Mars that launched in the ideal window last July. China's Tianwen-1entered orbit on February 10th, and after two months of orbital observations will launch its own rover to the surface. The UAE launched its own orbiter, Hope or Misabar al Amal, which entered orbit on the 10th and will study Martian climate and weather patterns, in the hope of learning more about the drastic climate changes that affected the planet in the ancient past.
It's a very exciting time for space exploration, and we are gaining more knowledge about our solar neighbours every day.