Unusually increased traffic on Mars, UAE’s Al-Amal (Hope) probe was the first of three spacecraft launched by humanity in a favorable launch window last summer , followed the next day by the Chinese Tienven-1 (Tianwen-1), and then on the 18th by the American Mars 2020, with the Perseverance marcher on it. Due to the orbit of the two planets around the Sun, the opportunity to save energy from Earth to Mars opens up every 26 months for a short time. This was also used for three spacecraft in 2020.
It is worth distinguishing whether we are talking about spacecraft on Mars or around Mars. Now there are really 2 new ones arrived and 1 coming soon. Of these, the Arabic probe means only an orbiting unit, the Chinese one orbiting unit + a landing (which will land only around May, also with a small Martian on it), and the American (Perseverance) does not carry an orbiting space probe, only on arrival landing Martian, dr. Astronomer Sándor Frey, who is also a regular author of the Space Portal, contributes to the promotion of astronomy and space science.
on or around the red planet:
- On the surface are Curiosity and InSight, both American.
- Among the orbiting probes are the Americans: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN; Mars Express from the European Space Agency and ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter with the Russians; the Mars Orbiter Mission of India.
- The two have already arrived these days (Al-Amal / Hope in Arabic and Tienven-1 in China) and will hopefully land safely and Mars 2020 / Perseverance.
CW: Significant enhancements to NASA’s Perseverance Marsman are designed to help you reach the surface precisely and land in a safe place. What exactly are these? Is artificial intelligence the basis?
dr. Sándor Frey: The landing takes only 7 minutes from entering the atmosphere of Mars to reaching the surface. However, due to the distance between Mars and Earth, radio messages would take more than 10 minutes to get there from Earth, and the same amount of information would travel backwards. That is, due to the time lag, it is impossible to control events from Earth, the probe must perform the operations autonomously. This means, on the one hand, pre-programmed sequences of events (dropping of a thermal shield, opening of a parachute, dropping of a parachute, starting a “sky crane” rocket brake, etc.)
It is important to brake (approx. 20 thousand km / h) h to essentially 0) and do not strike the surface of the probe. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter exactly what terrain the small car-sized, wheeled Martian arrives at. For example, if you reach rocky terrain, you may not be able to move it afterwards, it may be considered lost for your program. While from a technical point of view the flat terrain would be ideal, from a scientific point of view it is usually less exciting. In general, a compromise decision is needed between the two aspects. The current landing site would also be too risky if the onboard systems were not able to correct the descent path during landing. This is why the most complex Martian landing method to date has been developed.
Two main innovations have been introduced to better control the descent:
- the parachute the moment of opening is not a pre-recorded time, but depends on the current position of the probe in relation to the designated landing site
- real-time images of the terrain below it are compared by the on-board computer with the input map (this compiled from high-resolution images of former spacecraft orbiting Mars) and correcting the landing trajectory as necessary to avoid disadvantaged terrain
May be called Artificial Intelligence, but it is also worth bearing in mind that the preparation and construction of such complex space missions typically takes decades. A proven, robust, secure technical solution (at the hardware and software level) is far more important than incorporating the latest technologies on Earth.
You can see a spectacular simulation of the landing technology here>>>
CW: For the first time, research on Mars will also take samples that would be delivered to Earth by a later spacecraft for truly detailed laboratory analysis. The sample retrieval mission could start in 2026 at the earliest, returning to Earth in the early 2030s. What solution can this work with? Is this possible, is it a finished technology, or is it just a plan?
dr. Sándor Frey: The mission will require three flights. As a first step, Perseverance collects and puts the samples in a container. For these later (maybe in 2026) a new probe will arrive, land nearby (accurate control will be important here too!), Roll to the deposited pattern. With them, it rises from the surface, joins a unit orbiting Mars, which later returns to Earth, and when it gets here, it “drops” the tank to a designated location. All of this can happen in the early 1930s if everything goes according to schedule.
It all sounds complicated, and it is, but there have already been examples of some of its steps (e.g., taking back from the moon with automatic spacecraft, asteroids). The missions are being prepared, but the exact technical details are still being worked out.
CW: After the expected successful landing, a small Martian helicopter named Ingenuity will also be flown in the first months. What is the scientific purpose of this helicopter?
dr. Sándor Frey: They don’t really have a scientific goal, they want to try a new technology with it: is helicoptering working in practice at all in the rare atmosphere of Mars? As is well known to many, balloons had already traveled and drifted in the atmosphere of Venus as part of Intercosmos ’VEGA program, back in the mid-’80s. However, guided motorized flight in the atmosphere of an alien planet will now be tested for the first time.
|Helicopter on Mars|
Weighing 1.8 kg, 80 cm high and 120 cm in rotor diameter, the device travels when folded to the bottom of the rover to the surface. Here (60-90 days after landing) it is placed on the ground and then the Martian rolls over it. The batteries of the small rotary wing vehicle can then be charged. This is because the device, equipped with coaxial swivels, is powered by batteries weighing less than 300 g. These are charged by a solar panel located on top of the flying structure. A stand-alone flight can only take place after this. We hope that the camera system on the “tower” on top of the Martian, which is at least 100 m away, will also follow the soaring of the small helicopter (rotating).
The rotor blades are made of carbon fiber reinforced foam 70% of the local sound speed. The radio with a rover (900 MHz) has a maximum range of 1 km, so the flight distance from Perseverance has been maximized at 300 m and the altitude at 5 m. The flight speed can reach up to 10 m / s horizontally and 3 m / s vertically. Since the main aim is to test the usability of the technology – ie whether a drone helicopter can be used on Mars at all in the future – a flight can take up to 90-120 seconds.
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