NASA’s most sophisticated Mars rover yet is on its way to the red planet after a successful launch today July 30 2020. A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:50 a.m. Eastern.
The liftoff took place on schedule with no issues reported during the countdown. The only hiccup was a minor earthquake felt at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the control center for the mission, shortly before liftoff; the quake did not affect center operations.
The Mars 2020 spacecraft separated from the rocket’s Centaur upper stage 57 minutes after liftoff and 5 minutes after a second burn of the Centaur that placed the spacecraft on a trajectory toward Mars. Mars 2020 will deliver the Perseverance rover in Jezero Crater, landing on Feb. 18, 2021. That crater once hosted a lake with a river delta flowing into it, and scientists believe the rocks there may preserve evidence of any past Martian life.
“We’ll be searching for biosignatures: patterns, textures or substances that require the influence of life to form,”
Perseverance is based on the Curiosity rover that has been on Mars since August 2012, but with a number of modifications. Much of that additional payload, and complexity, is for the rover’s system to collect samples of Martian rocks. The rover will cache up to three dozen samples in tubes for return to Earth by two later missions that NASA is developing in cooperation with the European Space Agency for launch in 2026.
The rover includes several other upgrades. A terrain relative navigation system will compare images taken by the spacecraft during its descent to the Martian surface with maps on the spacecraft, and direct the spacecraft accordingly to enable a pinpoint landing. Engineers also upgraded the rover’s wheels after rocks damaged the wheels on Curiosity.