Mars 2020 spacecraft resumes normal operations after post-launch Safe Mode – Spaceflight Now


This illustration from NASA’s “Eyes on the Solar System” application shows the Mars 2020 spacecraft emerging from planet Earth. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission resumed normal operations on Friday after cold temperatures forced the spacecraft into safe mode shortly after a successful launch from Cape Canaveral.

“With the release of Safe Mode, the team is dedicated to interplanetary cruise,” said Matt Wallace, deputy project leader for the Mars 2020 mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Next stop, Jezero Crater,” he added, referring to the Perseverance rover landing site on Mars.

The $ 2.7 billion March 2020 mission took off from Cape Canaveral aboard a United Launch Atlas 5 rocket at 7:50 a.m. EDT (11:50 GMT) Thursday. Less than an hour later, the Centaur upper stage of the rocket deployed the Mars 2020 spacecraft directly to the target on a trajectory to break free from Earth’s gravitational grip and head toward the solar system.

But the spacecraft, containing NASA’s Perseverance rover, detected colder-than-expected temperatures as it flew into Earth’s shadow, a phase of the mission known as the eclipse. After returning to the sun, the spacecraft powered its radio transmitter and began sending signals to ground crews through NASA’s Deep Space Network.

DSN antennas are tuned to listen for weak radio signals from spacecraft in remote parts of the solar system, and the powerful transmissions from the Mars 2020 spacecraft – while still close to Earth – saturated the receivers of the network. This has happened on previous missions, NASA officials said, and ground crews quickly addressed the minor issue to establish a stable lock on Mars 2020.

Separately, the Mars 2020 spacecraft autonomously entered a standby operating state known as Safe Mode shortly after its deployment from the Atlas 5 rocket. Wallace said Thursday that the temperature d ‘part of the spacecraft had dropped below a preset limit, triggering safe mode.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket propelled the Mars 2020 spacecraft away from Earth with a successful launch Thursday from Cape Canaveral. Credit: United Launch Alliance

In safe mode, the spacecraft reverts to a basic mode of operation and runs all systems except essential systems until it receives further commands from ground controllers, according to NASA.

NASA said in a statement after Thursday’s launch that the temperature mismatch is in the Mars 2020 spacecraft’s liquid freon coolant loop, which dissipates heat from the spacecraft’s center through. the radiators of the carrier module transporting the rover to Mars.

“There’s a good chance we just tightened that limit a bit too much and that triggered Safe Mode,” Wallace told Spaceflight Now.

NASA’s Curiosity rover, on which Perseverance was built, did not step into Earth’s shadow after its launch in 2011. Engineers therefore relied on analytical modeling to predict temperatures during the eclipse. .

“We set the temperature differential limits conservatively to trigger Safe Mode,” Wallace said. “The philosophy is that it’s far better to trigger an event in safe mode when it’s not needed, rather than missing one.”

In the coming weeks, JPL ground crews will begin activating the spacecraft’s systems and instruments for post-launch checks. The tests will ensure that all systems are ready for the decisive Mars mission landing attempt scheduled for February 18, 2021.

The one-ton Perseverance rover carries seven instruments to explore the geology and climate at the mission’s landing site inside Jezero Crater, an impact basin that once contained a lake the size of Lake Tahoe . There is also evidence that an ancient river flowed into the lake over 3.5 billion years ago, leaving behind a dried-up river delta, where sedimentary rock deposits may contain signs of past life.

The six-wheeled robot will traverse the delta, and scientists will use the data from the rover to select rocks for drilling to sample the craft. The drill will extract core samples to store them in small tubes transported to Mars aboard the rover.

A future mission will retrieve the sample tubes and bring the Martian rock specimens back to Earth for detailed analysis.

The Perseverance rover also carries NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, a tiny rotorcraft that will attempt to become the first vehicle of its kind to fly through the atmosphere of another planet.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.


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