Separate ultrahigh-frequency signals in the megahertz range can also transmit heavier files, like images from Perseverance’s onboard cameras. The rover will communicate with satellites orbiting the Red Planet, and those will transmit its signals back to Earth. (NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Maven satellite, and their NASA cousins have new company: The United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission recently positioned a probe in orbit, which has sent back its first images.) These communication channels will continue pinging NASA on landing day.
But even with all of the cameras and the microphone, don’t expect an instant video feed. Those large files will take a while to transmit. Even rudimentary communications like the “heartbeat tone” take 11 minutes and 22 seconds to reach Earth at this time of year. That delay means that NASA engineers won’t have real-time communication with the craft during the infamous “seven minutes of terror,” when it must survive its descent through the martian atmosphere and land autonomously.
You’ll be able to follow along with the news from mission control on the NASA TV Public Channel, the NASA App, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. The official NASA TV stream will begin at 2:15 pm EST on Thursday, February 18.
Here are some milestones to look for:
At 3:38 pm, 10 minutes before entering the atmosphere, the cruise stage should separate from the shell carrying the rover.
Perseverance is planned to enter the atmosphere at 3:48 pm, kicking off the “seven minutes of terror.”
The heat-protected shell should then glide toward Mars for about 14 minutes before deploying a parachute and dropping its heat shield. The parachute should deploy around 3:52 pm).
After a couple minutes of parachuting, the craft’s back shell will release Perseverance, carried by a sort of jetpack for a smooth, propelled descent. This “sky crane” will lower Perseverance on nylon tethers, detach, and fly off.
NASA hopes to touch down at 3:55 pm and share the first image about five minutes later.
WIRED will also provide updated coverage as soon as NASA officials confirm details about the landing.
After Perseverance lands, the experiments won’t begin right away. “Whenever you’re coming to a new environment, you want to reorient yourself,” Villar says. “We want to fully stretch out her limbs and open her eyes.” The rover’s first few days at Jezero will be spent snapping pictures, checking instruments, and updating the operating system to software more relevant to Mars exploration. “We’ll be at the current location for a few days, if not weeks,” Villar says.
More video and photos will be headed for Earth as the rover begins its exploration, and cameras onboard the landing craft will give NASA an unprecedented peek at the landing process. “We’ve never had footage like that, ever, on Mars,” says Villar. NASA officials hope they’ll have lo-res video available within a few days. “Maybe we can piece together actual footage of landing,” Villar says.
In the meantime, for Villar, these last few hours on approach are like those tantalizing moments for a kid whose family has taken a long road trip to Disneyland and has finally just pulled up outside the gates. “Getting into the car, I’m getting more and more excited. And then you’re driving through the freeway—now I’m really getting excited. And then you get to the parking lot and now you’re really amped,” says Villar. “I’m feeling like I’m at the parking lot at Disneyland right now.”
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