Mars news all good

Less than a day after NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully landed, the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Southern California, reported that data relayed by several Mars-orbiting spacecraft indicated that everything appeared to be in working order.

NASA/JPL released several photos, including a spectacular high-res image taken during the rover’s landing. Perseverance’s cameras are intended to capture video of its touchdown, from which the image was taken; as of the weekend the full video was still being relayed to Earth and processed.

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This is the first high-res colour image sent back by the Hazard Cameras (Hazcams) on the underside NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover after its landing. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Unlike past Mars rovers, most of Perseverance’s cameras capture images in colour. Pictures returned thus far include two showing the rover’s front and rear wheels in the Martian dirt, captured by the vehicle’s Hazard Cameras (Hazcams).

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High-res view past one of the six wheels of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Ongoing work includes raising Perseverance’s mast (the “head” of the rover) from where it’s fixed on the rover’s deck, which will release its Navigation Cameras (Navcams) and two science cameras: the zoomable Mastcam-Z and a laser instrument called SuperCam. More photographs are expected after the Navcams’ deployment.

In the days to come, NASA/JPL engineers will check and update the rover’s system data and test its various instruments. It’s expected to be 1–2 months until Perseverance finds a flat location to drop off Ingenuity, the mini-helicopter attached to its belly, but mission controllers have received the first helicopter status report, which indicates that both the craft and its communications base station are operating as expected.

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Illustration of Ingenuity Mars helicopter on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

“There are two big-ticket items we are looking for in the data: the state of charge of Ingenuity’s batteries, as well as confirmation the base station is operating as designed, commanding heaters to turn off and on to keep the helicopter’s electronics within an expected range,” said Tim Canham, JPL’s helicopter operations leader.

“Both appear to be working great. With this positive report, we will move forward with tomorrow’s charge of the helicopter’s batteries.”

Like much of the 2-kilogram helicopter, its six lithium-ion batteries are off-the-shelf items. They currently receive recharges from the rover’s power supply. Once Ingenuity is deployed, the aircraft’s batteries will be charged solely by its own solar panel. 

Once Ingenuity is on surface, it will have a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) experimental flight test window. If it survives its first frigid Martian nights – temperatures can fall to -90°C – controllers will proceed with the first aircraft flight on another world.

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