NASA’s next Mars rover won’t get off the ground on July 17 after all.
The launch of the car-size Perseverance rover from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station has been pushed to July 20 because “additional time was needed for the team to repair an issue with the ground system equipment,” NASA officials said in an update today (June 11). It’s a 3-day delay, but there’s still a fair bit of wiggle room in Perseverance’s schedule as the rover’s launch window extends through August 11. But that end date is a hard deadline, marking the end of a lift-off opportunity that comes around only once every 26 months. Mars and Earth aren’t properly aligned for interplanetary missions very often.
Whenever Perseverance lifts off during the coming window, the six-wheeled robot will land inside Mars’ 28-mile-wide (45 kilometres) Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021 and perform many tasks including hunting for signs of ancient life in Jezero, characterising the area’s geology as well as collecting and caching dozens of Mars samples for future return to Earth. One of the rover’s instruments will generate oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere. This tech, once scaled up, could aid human exploration of the Red Planet, NASA officials have said. A small helicopter scout, named Ingenuity, will be deployed to make some short flights in the thin Martian air, and if it performs well, aerial exploration could play a large role in future Mars missions.