The Awe-Inspiring Mars Relay Network That Will Keep NASA’s Perseverance in Touch With Earth During Landing and Beyond

Mars Relay Network

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A firmly choreographed dance in between NASA’s Deep Space Network and Mars orbiters will keep the firm’s Perseverance in touch with Earth throughout landing and beyond.

When NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover touches down with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on the Red Planet today (February 18, 2021), they won’t be alone. From orbit, 2 robotic friends will be playing an unique function in case by signing in on the objective’s important indications from the minute Perseverance goes into the environment to long after it makes its very first tracks on the Martian surface area.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and the Mars Atmospheric and Volatile DEVELOPMENT (MAVEN) orbiter belong of the Mars Relay Network, a constellation of spacecraft that functions as a lifeline to the existing surface area objectives on Mars – NASA’s Curiosity rover and InSight lander.

Mars Relay Network

Five spacecraft presently in orbit about the Red Planet comprise the Mars Relay Network to send commands from Earth to appear objectives and get science information back from them. Clockwise from leading left: NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Atmospheric and Volatile DEVELOPMENT (MAVEN), Mars Odyssey, and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Mars Express and Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, ESA

While some commands and telemetry can be sent out straight to and from Earth, for the many part, the substantial amounts of science information gathered by rovers and landers cannot, since it would take too long. Most information taking a trip back to Earth need to initially be sent out to the Mars orbiters overhead, which then send the information 10s of countless miles through interplanetary area to radio antennas on Earth, consisting of the antennas of NASA’s age-old Deep Space Network (DSN).

“It is a huge endeavor to maintain communications with our spacecraft throughout the solar system, but Mars surface missions take this commitment to another level,” stated Bradford Arnold, DSN task supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Since Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) arrived in orbit in 1997, a steady stream of orbiters has been added, carrying relay radios and antennas, which provide highly efficient communications between surface landers and Earth. While the choreography of this relay scheme is now somewhat commonplace for assets in place, it is still extremely challenging to coordinate all the communication links for the very brief time during a lander’s arrival.”

This dance will guarantee that the world can see Perseverance’s entry, descent, and landing – a traumatic series of occasions that will start as the rover’s interplanetary cruise ends.

Deep Space Network Madrid Ground Station

The Deep Space Network has ground stations in Madrid (Spain), Goldstone (Southern California), and Canberra (Australia). Pictured here, Madrid’s radio antennas will take the lead in getting telemetry from the Mars Relay Network throughout Perseverance’s entry, descent and landing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Over the Horizon

As Perseverance goes into the Martian environment inside its protective aeroshell, the rover will change in between numerous of its onboard antennas to remain in contact with Earth. Some of these antennas utilize effective X-band transmissions that can send out percentages of information straight to the DSN. Others utilize ultra high frequencies (or UHF) to interact with MRO and MAVEN.

Managed by JPL for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program (SCaN), the DSN includes a number of parabolic radio antennas at ground stations in Southern California, near Madrid, Spain, and outdoors Canberra, Australia. This setup permits objective controllers to interact with spacecraft throughout the planetary system at all times throughout Earth’s everyday rotation. During Perseverance’s landing, Madrid’s antennas will be trained on Mars, taking the lead when getting information. The Goldstone complex near Barstow, California, will likewise be eavesdroping as a backup.

Since the landing of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity in 2004, science information has actually been consistently passed on by means of the Mars orbiters to the DSN, starting with MGS and after that NASA’s veteran Odyssey orbiter, which has actually been circling around Mars considering that 2001.

Because the last 2 minutes of Perseverance’s descent and landing will be mainly beyond Mars’ horizon from Earth’s viewpoint, “direct-to-Earth” X-band interactions will be difficult, and the rover will interact with Earth exclusively by means of MRO and MAVEN when it lands.

In orbit considering that 2006, MRO was created as a science objective and to serve as an interactions relay for landed surface area objectives. But it got an upgrade to get ready for Perseverance’s landing.

“In the previous year, the software application of the MRO spacecraft and its UHF radio have actually been upgraded to permit the near-immediate return of information gathered throughout EDL. MRO will record the telemetry transferred by Perseverance and utilize its 3-meter [10-foot] meal to send it instantly to Earth,” stated Roy Gladden, supervisor of the Mars Relay Network at JPL. “We call this a ‘bent pipe’, which allows us to get word from Perseverance even though Mars is blocking our view from Earth.”

First Word From Jezero

As MRO relays Perseverance’s landing in near-real-time, engineers in objective control wish to validate landing – and get the very first image – not long after 12: 55 p.m. PST (3: 55 p.m. EST). Because of the range the signal needs to take a trip from Mars to Earth, the spacecraft will have landed (referred to as “spacecraft event time”) 11 minutes and 22 seconds previously.

Later, at about 4: 27 p.m. PST (7: 27 p.m. EST), Odyssey will fly over the landing website and interact with the rover to validate its health. The next relay session after that will be at about 6: 36 p.m. PST (9: 36 p.m. EST) by ESA’s (the European Space Agency’s) Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which will likewise sign in on Perseverance’s health and relay any images the rover has actually transferred from the landing website.

In addition, MAVEN will record the whole landing with a data-rich broad spectrum recording, and will send out the details back to Earth a number of hours after landing. This information might be utilized to fill out any telemetry (engineering information) from the rover throughout EDL that was missed out on by MRO throughout the preliminary relay, and offer other measurements of the occasion.

This pal system assists guarantee that little information is lost throughout Perseverance’s historical landing in Jezero Crater while likewise verifying the health of the rover and its exact place.

Science Operations

Of course, interactions don’t stop after landing. That’s when the complex job of sending out commands to Perseverance and getting the rover’s substantial science information output will start.

During its objective, the rover will have all of the orbiters in the Mars Relay Network for assistance – consisting of NASA’s MRO, MAVEN, Odyssey, and ESA’s TGO, which has actually been playing a crucial function in the network for the previous couple of years. Even ESA’s Mars Express orbiter will be offered for emergency situation interactions ought to the requirement develop. While the NASA orbiters interact solely with the DSN, the ESA orbiters likewise interact by means of the European Space Tracking network and ground stations situated in Russia.

Although the Mars Relay Network has actually broadened to consist of more spacecraft and more global partners, with every brand-new surface area objective comes included intricacy when setting up the relay sessions for each orbiter flyover.

“Curiosity and InSight are near enough to each other on Mars that they are almost always visible by the orbiters at the same time when they fly over. Perseverance will land far enough away that it can’t simultaneously be seen by MRO, TGO, and Odyssey, but sometimes MAVEN, which has a larger orbit, will be able to see all three vehicles at the same time,” included Gladden. “Since we use the same set of frequencies when communicating with all three of them, we have to carefully schedule when each orbiter talks to each lander. We’ve gotten good at this over the last 18 years as rovers and landers have come and gone, including collaborating with ESA, and we’re excited to see the Mars Relay Network set new throughput records as it returns Perseverance’s huge data sets.”

Ultimately, this interactions undertaking linking Earth and Mars will allow us to see high-resolution images (and hear the very first noises) recorded by Perseverance, and researchers will have the ability to even more our understanding about the Red Planet’s ancient geology and remarkable astrobiological capacity.

More About Perseverance

An essential goal of Perseverance’s objective on Mars is astrobiology, consisting of the look for indications of ancient microbial life. The rover will define the world’s geology and previous environment, lead the way for human expedition of the Red Planet, and be the very first objective to gather and cache Martian rock and regolith.

Subsequent objectives, presently under factor to consider by NASA in cooperation with ESA, would send out spacecraft to Mars to gather these sealed samples from the surface area and return them to Earth for extensive analysis.

The Mars 2020 objective belongs to a bigger NASA effort that consists of objectives to the Moon as a method to get ready for human expedition of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will develop a continual human existence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar expedition strategies.

JPL, which is handled for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, developed and handles operations of the Perseverance rover.

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