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Mars Rover Lands With Help From Greenbank Telescope

Perseverance Touching Down on Mars (Illustration): An illustration of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing safely on Mars. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land safely on Feb. 18, 2021.

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover successfully touched down on the red planet yesterday. The Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia helped the lander stay in touch with Earth on the journey.

The telescope staff tracked Perseverance on its approach and landing on Mars and then passed the information along to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The GBT tracked the faint communication signal transmitted by Perseverance at a frequency of just over 400 MHz. As the rover entered the Martian atmosphere the total descent, known as the Entry-Descent-Landing phase (EDL), took about seven minutes.

Referred to as the “seven minutes of terror,” Perseverance had to slow down from 12,000 miles-per-hour to just a few feet per second. This rapid change in speed generates a lot of heat, creating a shield of ionized particles around the rover, temporarily obscuring its communication signal to Earth.

To reach the surface safely, Perseverance used a heat shield to protect itself during entry, deployed a supersonic parachute to slow down, and executed the “skycrane” maneuver to slowly touch the rover down on its wheels.

While on Mars, Perseverance will collect rock and sediment samples for later return to Earth, search for signs of ancient microbial life, and pave the way for human exploration.

This is not the first time that the Green Bank Telescope has supported a NASA mission to Mars. In 2018, the telescope received direct signals from the Mars InSight Lander. The telescope was also used to support the Phoenix landing in 2008.

News Director, edouglas@wvpublic.org, 304-556-4946, @AppalachiaEric

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