Perseverance, NASA’s latest rover, will explore this region of Mars to reveal its geologic history, determine whether it was once habitable and look for signs of life. Besides exploring in situ, the rover is designed to collect and cache samples for later retrieval and return to Earth by two joint U.S.-European Mars Sample Return (MSR) missions within the next 10 years. Perseverance also intends to pave the way for future human exploration of the red planet.
Perseverance is carrying seven instruments, a sample collection and caching system and an experimental small helicopter called Ingenuity. France is jointly responsible for SuperCam, a greatly enhanced version of the ChemCam instrument already operating on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover since August 2012.
SuperCam is the mission science team’s ’Swiss Army knife’, capable of performing five different types of analysis: measurement of elemental chemical composition, two kinds of molecular measurements (bonding and arrangement of atoms within minerals), an imager to acquire pictures of targets analysed and the first-ever science microphone to be operated on the surface of Mars. With this suite of instruments, SuperCam will remotely survey Mars’ chemistry and mineralogy, as well as the composition of the planet’s atmosphere.
On 18 February, Perseverance will arrive at Mars at a speed of more than 21,000 km/h and then have to slow and land in the space of a few minutes at less than 3 km/h. During these critical “seven minutes of terror” dreaded by the space community, the mission will be on its own and relying on a programmed sequence of events (see illustration below). The landing system draws extensively on that used for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. But to pave the way for future missions, Perseverance is carrying new technologies to enable a more precise and safer landing. After a seven-month journey of 470 million kilometres, it is aiming to touch down within about seven kilometres of its target landing spot.
The Mars 2020 mission was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL/Caltech). SuperCam was developed jointly by the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and a consortium of French research laboratories with a contribution from the University of Valladolid, Spain. CNES is the contracting authority for the French contribution to SuperCam. CNES, the French national scientific research centre CNRS and several French universities worked on the construction of this instrument, which will be operated alternately from LANL and the French Operations Centre for Science and Exploration (FOCSE) at CNES’s field centre in Toulouse.
A number of French laboratories attached to CNRS and its partners provided scientific expertise and helped to build SuperCam, chiefly the IRAP astrophysics and planetology research institute in Toulouse, the LESIA space and astrophysics instrumentation research laboratory in Meudon, the LAB astrophysics laboratory in Bordeaux, the LATMOS atmospheres, environments and space observations laboratory in Guyancourt, the Midi-Pyrenees Observatory (OMP) in Toulouse and the IAS space astrophysics institute in Orsay. The ISAE-Supaero aerospace engineering school in Toulouse and CNES also contributed their know-how to the instrument’s development.
Numerous industry partners also helped to build SuperCam in France, chiefly (excluding commercial contracts and equipment) 3D+, Adveotec, AXON’Cable, CILAS, CIRETEC, COMAT, Fichou, Gerac, Hirex, MAP coatings, Matra Electronics, MecanoID, Microtec, Optoprim, Optosigma, RESA, Steel, Thales and Winlight System.
#CapSurMars – experience and share the landing of Perseverance on 18 february!
⦁ Mars 2020 Perseverance press kit ⦁ here
⦁ Mars 2020 Perseverance media reel ⦁ here
⦁ Mars 2020 Perseverance web page ⦁ here
⦁ Other resources
⦁ CNRS Le Journal feature on research and the conquest of Mars, ⦁ here
⦁ ‘SuperCam, eyes and ears on Mars’ video, ⦁ here (released 10 February)
Live broadcast in French organized on the evening of the landing by CNES in partnership with CNRS
⦁ Thursday 18 February
⦁ Broadcast time slot: 7.45 p.m. to about 11 p.m. CET (landing scheduled 9.55 p.m.)
⦁ Broadcast produced by CNES in partnership with CNRS
⦁ Pictures streamed live from NASA
⦁ MC: Sophie Voinis
⦁ With numerous experts from CNES, CNRS and universities, led by Michel Viso, the agency’s head of exobiology programmes
Where to watch
The broadcast will air live on:
CNES’s YouTube channel
CNES’s Twitch channel
CNRS’s Facebook page
The URL for the broadcast on YouTube is https://supercam.cnes.fr/fr/cap-sur-mars
This player can be embedded on any website without prior authorization using the embed code:
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Watch the landing in France
Several cultural venues will be streaming the CNES broadcast, notably Futuroscope, the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie, La Coupole, the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace, the Cité de l’espace, the Vaulx-en-Velin planetarium and the Pôle des Etoiles.
The Cité de l’Espace putting Mars centre stage
Until this June, visitors will be able to see a unique mobile replica of the Perseverance Mars rover and its accompanying Ingenuity rotorcraft as the centrepiece of the Astralia Room at the Cité de l’espace space theme park, entirely given over to Mars. With its Mars Lab, the park will also be giving visitors the chance to experience a series of hands-on experiments to learn about Mars’ atmosphere and the Perseverance rover’s missions, guided by an educator.
New permanent attraction
The Cité de l’espace is pursuing its investments with the opening this June of a large Mars ‘dirt yard’ with animated full-scale replicas of NASA’s Perseverance rover, to which France has made a big contribution from CNES, CNRS, institutes and universities through several laboratories, notably IRAP in Toulouse, and China’s Tianwen-1 rover. In the middle of an amphitheatre with more than 200 seats, this replica of Mars soil and crater terrain will give visitors a taste of how current Mars exploration missions are operating. The Cité de l’espace will be showing unique and life-like 30-minute animations. The immersive set, innovative staging and dialogues between actors and rovers will explain to the public the role of these new rovers in Mars exploration.