Science

Mars rover Perseverance photographed its own wreckage during landing

Mars has a unique species of “tumbleweed” rolling across the Martian plains.

These tumbleweeds aren’t plants — they’re debris from the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) equipment of NASA’s Perseverance rover. Percy stumbled across many of these remnants, photographed them so the engineers could study them.

During its landing on February 18, 2021, a series of hardware elements reduced the spacecraft’s speed from 12,500 mph (20,000 km/h) when it first entered the Martian atmosphere to virtually zero mph when it was carefully placed on the surface of the heavenly crane. . And all this happened in just seven minutes.

Related: New 7 Minutes of Horror: Watch the breathtaking landing site of NASA’s Perseverance Rover in this video.

After their work was completed, EDL equipment such as the parachute, hull, heat shield, and sky crane were thrown off the Perseverance rover and crashed into Mars at some distance from the rover to avoid damaging it.

Over the past year and a half, the Perseverance team has discovered and cataloged about half a dozen alleged EDL wrecks. The first fragment was discovered on April 16, 2022, when an unusually bright object was seen in one of Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z panoramic photos. “The material was given a descriptive title: ‘bright material’. No one knew what it was at the time, but perhaps the rover will take a closer look as it ascends into the delta in the coming weeks,” NASA wrote in the message. Blog post (will open in a new tab).

A few months later, Perseverance reached a place in the delta called Hogwallow Flats. On June 12, 2022, he photographed a mysterious object believed to be part of a multi-layer insulation (MLI) from a sky crane, made of either perforated aluminized kapton (PAK) or mylar, which flutters in the wind like a flag. . In the same region, the rover also took a picture of a fast-moving knotted ball of “string-like material.” It could be dacron, a mesh used in thermal blankets, according to the task force.

A string-like material photographed by the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Interestingly, Hogwallow Flats is more than 1.25 miles (two kilometers) away from the EDL Perseverance equipment crash sites. “Hogwallow Flats appears to be a natural collection site for windblown EDL debris,” NASA notes.

The Perseverance Ingenuity companion helicopter came close to some of the EDL wreckage. On April 19, 2022, Ingenuity flew over the crash site of Perseverance’s hull and parachute, taking high resolution pictures of the wreckage.

Such fields of deliberately ejected debris are not uncommon on Mars, as landings on the Red Planet tend to be violent. Both the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers also photographed what is believed to be their own EDL debris.

Landing a spacecraft safely on Mars is the number one priority for now, but as we continue to place rovers on the planet, researchers will need to consider the implications of such space debris. “Engineers designing EDL hardware for future missions will need to consider the impact (literally) of their designs on both Mars and mission requirements,” NASA said.

Follow Stefanie Waldek on Twitter @StefanieWaldek (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) and on facebook (will open in a new tab).

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