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At a Glance

NASA's Perseverance mission will send an advanced roving laboratory to Jezero crater on Mars, the site of an ancient lake and river delta. There, the rover will study rocks that formed in habitable environments and may preserve signs of past microbial life. Throughout the mission, it will collect soil and rock samples and leave them on the surface for collection by a future Earth return mission. Only when the samples are returned to Earth will scientists be able to determine whether definitive signs of ancient life are present.

Perseverance is similar in structure and appearance to NASA's Curiosity rover. The components it will use to land on Mars are nearly identical to those used for Curiosity, but there are some upgrades, and the science instruments are entirely different. The Planetary Society is an education and public outreach partner for the Mastcam-Z camera system, which will produce stunning color images of the surface.

NASA Perseverance rover (artist's concept)

NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA Perseverance rover (artist's concept)
This artist's rendition depicts NASA's Perseverance rover studying a martian rock outcrop.

Science Goals

The Perseverance mission science goals fall into 4 categories: geology, astrobiology, sample caching, and preparation for human exploration of Mars. 

Geology

Characterize the processes that formed and modified the geologic record within a field exploration area on Mars selected for evidence of an astrobiologically-relevant ancient environment and geologic diversity.

Astrobiology

Perform the following astrobiologically relevant investigations on the geologic materials at the landing site:

  1. Determine the habitability of an ancient environment.
  2. For ancient environments interpreted to have been habitable, search for materials with high biosignature preservation potential.
  3. Search for potential evidence of past life using the observations regarding habitability and preservation as a guide.

Sample caching

Assemble rigorously documented and returnable cached samples for possible future return to Earth.

  1. Obtain samples that are scientifically selected, for which the field context is documented, that contain the most promising samples identified in the astrobiology objectives and that represent the geologic diversity of the field site.
  2. Ensure compliance with future needs in the areas of planetary protection and engineering so that the cached samples could be returned in the future if NASA chooses to do so.

Preparation for humans

Contribute to the preparation for human exploration of Mars by making significant progress towards filling at least one major Strategic Knowledge Gap (SKG). The highest priority SKG measurements that are synergistic with Perseverance science objectives and compatible with the mission concept are:

  1. Demonstration of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies to enable propellant and consumable oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere for future exploration missions.
  2. Characterization of atmospheric dust size and morphology to understand its effects on the operation of surface systems and human health.
  3. Surface weather measurements to validate global atmospheric models.
  4. Gathering data to inform future landings with a set of engineering sensors embedded in the Perseverance heat shield and backshell, including sensors for aerothermal conditions, thermal protection system performance, and aerodynamic performance of the Perseverance entry vehicle during its entry and descent to the Mars surface.

Key Personnel

Rover Overview

Mars 2020 rover schematic (new)

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Mars 2020 rover schematic (new)

Dimensions: 3 meters long (not including arm), 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall (roughly the size of a compact car). The robotic arm is 2.1 meters long.  

Mass: 1,050 kilograms (About 300 kilograms less than a compact car).

Science Instruments

Instruments selected for the Mars 2020 rover

NASA

Instruments selected for the Mars 2020 rover
On the mast are upgraded versions of instruments on Curiosity: Mastcam-Z (color, stereo, 3D, zoom-capable cameras); and SuperCam (upgraded version of ChemCam). On the arm are PIXL, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and imager, and SHERLOC, a Raman spectrometer and imager. RIMFAX is a ground-penetrating radar; MEDA is a meteorological package; and MOXIE will advance goals in in-situ resource utilization by producing oxygen from carbon dioxide.

The Perseverance rover carries 7 primary instruments:

Mastcam-Z

A zoomable camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability that assesses the mineralogy of the Martian surface and assists with rover operations. Principal Investigator: Jim Bell, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA. 

Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA)

A set of sensors that provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and dust size and shape. Principal Investigator: Jose Rodriguez-Manfredi, Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial, Spain.

Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE)

MOXIE produces oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide to demonstrate a way future human explorers could harvest oxygen for air and propellant. Principal Investigator: Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA.

Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL)

An X-ray fluorescence spectrometer with a high-resolution imager to determine the elemental composition of Martian surface materials. Principal Investigator: Abigail Allwood, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, USA.

Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX)

A ground-penetrating radar that provides centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface. Principal Investigator: Svein-Erik Hamran, Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, Norway. 

Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC)

A spectrometer and ultraviolet laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars. Principal Investigator: Luther Beegle, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, USA

SuperCam

A laser-based instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, mineralogy, and the detection of organic compounds. Principal Investigator: Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, USA. Instrument also contains significant contribution from Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (CNES/IRAP) France. 

Other instruments and technologies

Mars Helicopter

Mars Helicopter Artist's Concept

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Mars Helicopter Artist's Concept
An artist's concept of the Mars Helicopter.

The Mars Helicopter is an autonomous rotorcraft that will demonstrate the viability of heavier-than-air vehicles on other worlds. After traveling to the surface attached to the Perseverance rover's belly pan, the helicopter will be deposited on the surface via the Mars Helicopter Delivery System. It will conduct up to 5 flights of a few hundred meters each over a 30-day period, relaying data back to the rover. As a technology demonstration mission, the helicopter's success or failure is not tied to that of the rover. 

Imaging

The Perseverance rover has a total of 23 cameras. In addition to 7 science cameras, there are 7 entry, descent, and landing (EDL) cameras and 9 engineering cameras used to help engineers navigate the rover on the surface.

Mars 2020 Rover Cameras

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars 2020 Rover Cameras
The Mars 2020 rover has a total of 23 cameras: 7 science cameras, 7 EDL cameras and 9 engineering cameras.

Audio

The Perseverance mission will have a suite of microphones to record the sounds of EDL, and a microphone on SuperCam will be able to hear the instrument's laser zapping its rock targets. The Planetary Society has for years advocated for a Mars microphone; Carl Sagan first pitched the idea to NASA in 1996. In 1998, the Society flew the first-ever microphone to Mars on a Russian LIDAR instrument aboard NASA's Mars Polar Lander mission. The lander crashed into the surface in 1999.

Wheels

Like Curiosity, Perseverance has 6 wheels and can independently steer its front 2 and rear 2 wheels, allowing it to rotate 360 degrees in place. In comparison to Curiosity, Perseverance's wheels are narrower, thicker, made from stronger aluminum, and have larger diameters (52.5 vs. 50 centimeters). The grousers use a gentle wave pattern rather than chevrons

Power

Perseverance uses a nuclear power source, identical to Curiosity’s, called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermal Generator (MMRTG), which supplies the spacecraft with 110 watts of electricity as of the day of landing and keeps it warm on Mars. The MMRTG fuel source is plutonium-238.

Landing site

Perseverance will land in Jezero Crater, a 45-kilometer-wide crater that once held a lake and river delta. Jezero is located at 18.4°N, 77.7°E, on Mars' dichotomy boundary, where the planet's more heavily cratered southern highland terrain gives way to the flatter terrain of the north.

Location of Jezero Crater Mars 2020 landing site, Mars

ISRO / ISSDC / Emily Lakdawalla

Location of Jezero Crater Mars 2020 landing site, Mars
Jezero crater lies within the yellow circle near the center of this image (the crater itself is not visible in this global view, which was taken by Mars Orbiter Mission on 7 October 2014). InSight and Curiosity landing sites are near the edge of the disk on the right; no other successful landing sites are visible in this view.
Perseverance rover landing ellipse in Jezero crater

ESA / DLR / FU Berlin / Emily Lakdawalla

Perseverance rover landing ellipse in Jezero crater
Jezero crater is 45 kilometers in diameter. The Perseverance rover landing site will be on the flat floor of the crater, just east of a dramatic ancient river delta.

At Jezero, scientists will attempt to answer key questions about the formation of the lake and delta, and search for ancient biosignatures that range from living chemistry to actual fossils. The rover will gradually make its way up the ancient riverbed and out of the crater, surveying an entire river system from sink to source.

Cost

The current life-cycle cost estimate for Perseverance, which includes spacecraft development, launch, and the first two years of operations, is $2.7 billion spread over 10 years. The Mars Exploration Program within NASA's Planetary Science Division is responsible for management and the majority of funding for the Perseverance rover project. Approximately $156 million was provided by NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) for MOXIE and the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) for MEDLI-2.

Mars 2020 rover spending by fiscal year. Amounts after the current year are official projections. The project began formulation studies in 2013 and entered the implementation (build) phase in 2016. The completed rover left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Febrary 2020 for launch that July. Source: Planetary Science Budget Dataset, compiled by Casey Dreier for The Planetary Society (accessible on Google Sheets or downloadable as an Excel file).

Past milestones

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