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Perseverance Marks 2 Years On Mars

Two years ago today, NASA's Perseverance Rover arrive on the surface of Mars, and its been incredibly busy!

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Sun Feb 19 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Two years ago today, NASA's Perseverance Rover arrive on the surface of Mars, and its been incredibly busy!

On February 18, 2021, Perseverance and its ride along parter Ingenuity landed on the red planet. With the support of a rocket-powered sky crane the car-sized Perseverance was lowered safetly to the surface of of Mars' in Jezero Crater, the sky crane then flew off to crash-land a safe distance away.

"Anniversaries are a time of reflection and celebration, and the Perseverance team is doing a lot of both," - Ken Farley, Perseverance Project Scientist, California Institute of Technology

Perseverance Rover

Perseverance has inspected and performed data collection on hundreds of geologic features, collected 15 martian rock cores and deposited the first sample ready to be retrieved on another world.

Perseverance has filled 18 of its 38 titanium sample tubes so far with 15 holding rock cores, 2 contain regolith, and 1 contains an "atmospheric sample" captured after the rover's first drilling operation went awry. Perseverance also carries five "witness tubes" which are designed to help determine if any sealed sample tubes might contain contaminants from Earth.

Sample tubes deposited by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover at the Three Forks sample depot, as viewed by the WATSON camera on the end of the rover's robotic arm - NASA

Perseverance is currently exploring on an extended mission following its initial mission, which lasted for 1 Mars year (equivalent to approximately 687 Earth days). Perseverance has traveled 9.05 miles (14.57 km), taken more than 166, 000 images and performed over 676,000 subsurface soundings with its ground penetrating radar instrument and fired its rock zapping laser over 230,500 times in addition to its 662 audio recordings.

Sample Return Plans

ESA is working toward the launch of an Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) in 2027 with NASA sending a rocket equipped with the Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) in 2028. Assuming everything goes as planned, Perseverance will transport its sample collection to the Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) which will touchdown in Jezero, a 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) region. From there, the SRL's onboard rocket will launch the collected Mars material into orbit, where it will be retrieved and transported back to Earth by the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO).

However, there is a possibility that Perseverance may become inoperable by the late 2020s, and this is where the depot serves as a contingency plan. To prepare for this, the rover has deposited 10 sample tubes in an area of Jezero known as Three Forks. In the event of a malfunction, two Ingenuity-style helicopters will be launched with the SRL to collect the stored tubes one by one, and return them to the lander for launch.

Once the samples reach Earth, they will be examined by scientists in well-equipped laboratories across the globe. Researchers will primarily search for evidence of ancient life on Mars, as Jezero was once a habitable environment, with a large lake and a river delta billions of years ago.

Ingenuity Helicopter

Ingenuity was not designed as a significant contributor to Perseverance's mission, the 1.8-kilogram (4-pound) Ingenuity helicopter was tasked with demonstrating the possibility of aerial exploration on Mars, despite the planet's thin atmosphere. Incredibly, the small rotorcraft succeeded in surpassing its original 5 flight mission and continued to soar, embarking on an extended mission to scout for Perseverance.

Ingenuity has completed an impressive 43 flights on the Red Planet, traversing a distance of nearly 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers) of Martian terrain.