Kennedy Engineers Play Major Role in Mars 2020 Mission Success

Mars 2020 Perseverance rover lift off
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Tim Powers

When NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover roared off the pad aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 Thursday, July 30, at 7:50 a.m., there were a lot of energized engineers on the ground at Kennedy Space Center.

Following the successful launch, the Florida spaceport’s Director of Engineering, Shawn Quinn, offered praise to the team’s support of Kennedy’s Launch Services Program (LSP).

“Our LSP engineering team diligently worked through multiple milestones to achieve launch readiness,” Quinn said. “Every mission presents its own unique challenges, including Mars 2020. The engineering team’s response to these challenges was outstanding.”

The team supported critical reviews and tests, such as: the LSP pre-Flight Readiness Review (FRR) Risk Control Board, FRR Launch Management Coordination meeting, systems certification review, and mission dress rehearsal. Engineering technical experts worked through 247 engineering review summaries in support of the historic mission.

Quinn also recognized the Engineering’s Construction of Facilities (COF) team for its contributions to facility and infrastructure support.

“The real-time support to the Spaceport Integration and Services directorate in addressing operations and maintenance-related issues and concerns during processing was a critical piece to the success of the mission,” Quinn said.

The team performed facility repairs and upgrades — including replacing obsolete substations, switch gears, chillers, air ventilation and conditioning systems, facility electrical, lighting, and fire protection systems at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility Mission Operations Support Building, the Multi-Operation Support Building, the Radiothermalisotopic Generator Facility, and Hangar AE — all in support of this historic mission.

Perseverance is now on its way to seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth. Along with the rover is the Ingenuity helicopter, a technology demonstration that will be the first powered flight on Mars.The rover will arrive on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021.

The mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key astrobiology questions concerning the potential for life on Mars. It not only seeks signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also will search for signs of past microbial life.

Mars 2020 Perseverance Exits Safe Mode, Successfully Heading to Mars

Flight controllers for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission have returned the spacecraft to nominal flight operations.

Launched on July 30 at 7:50 a.m. EDT (4:50 a.m. PDT), Mars 2020 entered a state called safe mode soon after it was placed on an interplanetary trajectory because a sensor indicated that part of the spacecraft was slightly colder than expected. When a spacecraft enters safe mode, all but essential systems are turned off until it receives new commands from mission control.

“With safe mode exit, the team is getting down to the business of interplanetary cruise,” said Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Next stop, Jezero Crater.”

Managed by JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis program.

 

Mars 2020 Perseverance Healthy and on Its Way

The team controlling NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has received telemetry (detailed spacecraft data) down from the spacecraft and has also been able to send commands up to the spacecraft, according to Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager. The team, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, has confirmed that the spacecraft is healthy and on its way to Mars.

Wallace provided a more detailed update on two issues during launch operations:

“First, the proximity of the spacecraft to Earth immediately after launch was saturating the ground station receivers of NASA’s Deep Space Network. This is a known issue that we have encountered on other planetary missions, including during the launch of NASA’s Curiosity rover in 2011. The Perseverance team worked through prepared mitigation strategies that included detuning the receivers and pointing the antennas slightly off-target from the spacecraft to bring the signal within an acceptable range. We are now in lock on telemetry after taking these actions.

“The second issue was a transient event involving temperature on the spacecraft. The mission uses a liquid freon loop to bring heat from the center of the spacecraft to radiators on the cruise stage (the part that helps fly the rover to Mars), which have a view to space. We monitor the difference in temperature between the warm inlet to the radiators and the cooler outlet from the radiators. As the spacecraft entered into Earth’s shadow, the Sun was temporary blocked by Earth, and the outlet temperature dropped. This caused the difference between the warm inlet and cooler outlet to increase. This transient differential tripped an alarm and caused the spacecraft to transition into the standby mode known as ‘safe mode.’

“Modeling by the team predicted something like this could happen during eclipse – the time when the spacecraft is in Earth’s shadow – but we could not create this exact environment for tests prior to launch. Nor did we have flight data from Curiosity, because its trajectory had no eclipse. We set the limits for the temperature differential conservatively tight for triggering a safe mode. The philosophy is that it is far better to trigger a safe mode event when not required, than miss one that is. Safe mode is a stable and acceptable mode for the spacecraft, and triggering safe mode during this transitional phase is not problematic for Mars 2020.

“With the understanding of the causes of these issues, we are conducting the operations necessary to move the spacecraft back out of safe mode and into normal cruise mode.”

Successful Launch Sends Perseverance on Seven-Month Journey to Mars

Mars 2020 Perseverance launch
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket climbs upward after lifting off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, carrying NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Not obstacles, not complexity — not even a worldwide pandemic — could keep NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover from blasting off on its historic mission to the Red Planet.

On Thursday, July 30, at 7:50 a.m. EDT, Perseverance lifted off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, bound for a Feb. 18, 2021, arrival to Mars, where it will touch down on the surface of Jezero Crater.

“It was an amazing launch; very successful,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during Thursday’s post-launch news conference at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “It went right on time, it is on a trajectory now that has been done with pinpoint accuracy, and it is, in fact, on its way to Mars.”

Perseverance, which will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, is carrying seven different scientific instruments. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray

Due to the alignment of Earth and Mars, the mission’s launch period would have expired on Aug. 15. That placed increased importance on hitting the window; otherwise, the rover would have needed to be stored for two years, until the next favorable alignment.

“(The ULA and Launch Services team) gave us a perfect launch this morning — right down the middle; couldn’t have aimed us any better,” said Matt Wallace, deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “They really pushed hard to keep us on this limited planetary launch window in 2020.”

With its unique and distinct challenges, COVID-19 certainly threatened that timeline. Wallace admitted there have been “very strenuous moments” in the past few months dealing with the pandemic.

“It really took the entire agency to step up and help us; and they didn’t hesitate,” he said. “The team out there — thousands of people — have really made this a special mission. As people have eluded to, ‘Perseverance’ has become a pretty good name for this mission.”

Launch Director Omar Baez of NASA’s Launch Services Program beamed with pride following his team’s flawless effort.

Derrol Nail, left, NASA Communications, and Moogega Cooper, Planetary Protection engineer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, provide live coverage during Thursday’s launch of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. Photo credit: NASA/Frankie Martin

“Fantastic, honored, proud, ecstatic — those are the kind of words I can think of right now,” Baez said. “We hit right at the beginning of the window, and the vehicle performed perfectly. It’s just a proud moment, and I’m glad our program provided what was needed to get this on the way.”

ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno said before the launch that the rocket would leap off of the pad. On a calm, clear, and beautiful Florida day, that’s exactly what happened.

“We ignited, the Atlas performed nominally throughout the mission, and we ended with just an extraordinarily accurate orbital insertion,” Bruno said.

About the size of a car with dimensions similar to the Curiosity rover, Perseverance carries seven different scientific instruments. The rover’s astrobiology mission, developed under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

The mission marks the first time in history that samples will be collected to bring back to Earth from another planet. Another first: Ingenuity, a twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter attached to the belly of the rover, will become the first aircraft to fly on another world.

Perseverance will spend at least one Martian year, or approximately two Earth years, exploring the landing site region on the Red Planet. Though the mission has a long way to go, Thursday’s launch sent it off to a terrific start.

“I loved it,” said NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen. “It’s like punching a hole in the sky.”

Tune in to today’s Post-Launch News Conference for the Latest on Perseverance

See what NASA and industry leaders have to say about today’s successful Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida — and get the latest information on the status of the spacecraft — during a post-launch news conference, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

The show will be broadcast live from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on NASA TV and the agency’s website.

Participants include NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen; Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director, NASA HQ; Matt Wallace, deputy project manager, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Omar Baez, launch director, NASA’s Launch Services Program; and Tory Bruno, United Launch Alliance CEO. We will provide a wrapup from that news conference here, at blogs.nasa.gov/Mars2020.

Perseverance ‘Calls Home’ to Confirm Mars is the Next Stop

Today’s final critical milestone — acquisition of signal — has been achieved. In essence, Perseverance has phoned home to let us know it’s officially on the way to Mars.

“This signifies that JPL’s (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) deep space network has locked on to the spacecraft, which is on its journey to Mars,” said NASA Launch Director Omar Baez, from the agency’s Launch Services Program. “Everything appears to be going nominally. Today’s count went beautifully.”

Perseverance has quite the trip ahead. It will reach Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, touching down on the surface of Jezero Crater. The rover will search for signs of past microbial life and help scientists better understand the geology and climate of the Red Planet.

NASA Television and the agency’s website will broadcast a post-launch news conference, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Participants include NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen; Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director, NASA HQ; Matt Wallace, deputy project manager, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Omar Baez, launch director, NASA’s Launch Services Program; and Tory Bruno, United Launch Alliance CEO. We will provide a wrapup from that news conference here, at blogs.nasa.gov/Mars2020.

Perseverance Completes Successful Spacecraft Separation

Just over an hour into its flight, Perseverance is now officially on its way to Mars.

A key milestone — spacecraft separation — has taken place. The official call just came in: “And we have successful separation of Mars 2020 with the Perseverance rover.”

The final planned major event of the day is acquisition of signal, which is expected within the next 30 minutes.

 

Spacecraft Begins Second Burn, Main Engine Shutdown Next

Main engine start (MES) #2 is complete, as the spacecraft begins the second burn.

“This is the burn that really gets us moving with fast velocity in the direction we need to go,” said Mic Woltman from NASA’s Launch Services Program. “MES is good, firing is nominal.”

Main engine shutdown is next, followed by spacecraft separation and acquisition of signal — both of which are expected within the next hour.

A Look at Important Instruments Aboard the Rover

The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover and Ingenuity helicopter are on the way to Mars after the July 30 7:50 a.m. launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo credit: NASA

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is carrying seven instruments to the Red Planet. Here is a look at those critical instruments:

  • Mastcam-Z is an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom.
  • SuperCam is an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy at a distance.
  • Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and high-resolution imager, which will map the fine-scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials.
  • Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) is a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to map mineralogy and organic compounds.
  • The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) is a technology demonstration that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) is a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and dust size and shape.
  • The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) is a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface.