NASA Gives Detailed Analysis of All Landing Debris Perseverance Has Found on Mars

A recent blog by Dr. Justin Maki, Imaging Scientist and Deputy Principal Investigator on the Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z camera, provides a detailed account of the debris the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) system left behind. scattered around the Martian surface while delivering the Perseverance rover to Jezero Crater. This blog highlights the amount of hardware needed to send our brave robotic explorers to the Red Planet while discussing the importance of imaging this debris.

“For example, on Sol 414 (April 19, 2022), the Ingenuity helicopter returned a detailed color image of the abandoned parachute and rear shell located 1 km northwest of the landing site.” writes Dr. Maki. But how important is it to locate and identify debris from past Mars missions?

Image of Perseverance’s rear hull taken by the Ingenuity helicopter on Sol 414 (April 19, 2022). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Dr Briony Horgan, co-investigator of the Perseverance rover and associate professor of planetary sciences in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University, said: “The contamination issues are quite minor, but we actually use material on the surface to track dust buildup! Parachutes are particularly good at this and measuring their brightness over time can help us understand how dust deposition changes over time due to local weather conditions.

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Dr Maki continues in his blog: “A few weeks later, Perseverance entered the Hogwallow Flats area and acquired a high resolution Mastcam-Z 360 degree panorama. As these images were redirected back to Earth, a science team member in Europe spotted the bright material (at 2:50 a.m. PT) in a Sol 467 (June 12, 2022) Mastcam-Z image and immediately suggested it could be a piece of debris from the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) system. Later that morning, this was confirmed by the EDL hardware team at JPL: Perseverance had imagined a piece of Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI), likely from the overhead crane, which flew from the Perseverance landing site after landing, ensuring it would crash safely out of range of the rover. But with debris strewn around the Martian surface, can this interfere with the operations of the Perseverance rover?

EDL debris image taken by Perseverance’s Left Mastcam-Z camera on Sol 467 (June 13, 2022). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

“Mars 2020 includes several design features to guard against this type of debris interfering with rover operations,” said Steven Lee, who is the deputy project manager for Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity. “The presence of debris on the ground does not in itself constitute a risk for the Perseverance mission. Only two components of the rover could hit debris on the ground. First off, the mobility system is designed to be tough on a wide variety of terrain types and could easily roll right over that debris. Likewise, the sampling system is designed to operate in a dusty and stony environment (including dust and stones created during abrasion or coring). We also occasionally perform a ‘punching to clean chuck’ operation to shake the material out of the core barrel chuck. »

NASA’s Perseverance rover is not the first Martian rover to photograph its own debris, as Dr Maki states in his blog, “Mars Exploration Rover’s (MER) Opportunity rover has imaged a heat shield up close on Sol 335 (January 2, 2004) from the surface mission.These images revealed a debris field that extended for several meters and included charred thermal shielding material, metal springs and thermal blanket material. also showed a rock (“heat shield rock”) believed to be a meteorite – the original version of EDL debris Going forward, what specific steps can be taken to reduce this debris on future missions?

Image of Opportunity’s heat shield taken on Sol 335 (January 2, 2004). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell)

“So far the number of missions we’ve landed on Mars has been so low that it’s a very minor contributor on the surface,” Dr Horgan said. “And I like to imagine that one day the future inhabitants of Mars will preserve these historic spacecraft landing sites and hardware, perhaps as the first interplanetary parks!”

As always, keep doing science and keep looking up!

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