In collecting information about the red planet, robots have been a key tool and the first to explore it: things to know about the rovers on Mars.
In the era of robotics and digital, the first to explore the planet Mars are robots, which over the years have managed to collect information and data very valuable. Mars rovers have therefore been a very important tool for world powers, from Russia to the US, but also Europe, India and China. Among the dozens of probes sent from the 60s to today on the red planet, in fact, the rovers have played a key role.
The history of the rovers on Mars
The first rover on Mars ever was called PrOP-M, and was sent to the red planet linked to the Russian probe Mars 3, which controlled and powered it. A mission that lasted very little, a handful of seconds, because after landing communications were lost, for unknown reasons. However, thanks to this mission, the Soviet Space Agency could boast of being the first to land on the red planet.
Since then, however, no vehicle landed on the surface of the planet, although many approached to carry out measurements and monitor it. Only since 1997 began the real exploration of Mars, through independent rovers. For example Sojourner, followed by Opportunity and Spirit, and up to Curiosity.
The Rover Sojourner
The first rover on Mars that succeeded in the intent to move on the surface of the planet was the Sojourner, as part of the mission Mars Pathfinder. At 65 centimeters long and almost exasperatingly slow by modern standards, it was nonetheless the device that paved the way for more modern rovers. In fact, this machine contained some cutting-edge technology: the retrorockets for landing, so as to make it as gentle as possible, were very innovative for that time, as well as the system based on airbags to cushion the impact, which inflate 360 meters from the surface and completely envelop the probe, so as to absorb the shock.
This rover also had scientific instruments on board that can analyze rocks, such as the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), which can determine the chemical composition of objects. According to its programming, this rover on Mars should have lasted a maximum of one month, instead it remained operational for nearly three months, covering a hundred meters.
The new frontiers: the rovers Spirit and Opportunity
After the first the exploration of the red planet suffered a setback, with a period full of failures for NASA rovers on Mars. The U.S. agency in fact failed two of the three subsequent missions and this put the project at risk, so that the agency focused a lot of funds on a double mission, called Mars Exploration Rover, which aimed to send two twin probes to Mars to send on the surface of Mars, with the hope that at least one could land.
This time it was a real success: both rovers managed to land and remained to operate on the planet for a very long time: considering that their planned life was three months, Spirit lasted 6 years while Opportunity on Mars remained for 15 years.
The two probes were an evolution of Sojourner. They had a mass of 185 kg, but had the same system of thermal protection for entry into the atmosphere of their predecessor. They were changed instead the materials of the airbags, with other more resistant. Once on Mars the two rovers were able, over the years, to revolutionize the knowledge of the planet, especially from the geological point of view. But it was Opportunity to achieve the best results. It landed in fact in a much more interesting area, rich in stratified rocks. The probe was able to explore 45.16 km, including Eagle, Endurance, Victoria and Endeavour craters.
A change of pace: Curiosity
There was then Curiosity, on Mars, a rover that defined a significant increase in the complexity of the mission and especially of its scientific return. The probe was much larger, weighing 900 kilos, and more sophisticated systems were studied for landing. Even the electrical, energy and thermal systems were revolutionized, with a thermoelectric generator working with radioisotopes, active day and night. This rover, which is still active, allows for important scientific experiments.
The last frontier: the Perseverance rover
The latest mission developed by NASA to explore Mars is called Mars 2020, and is based on the work of the Perseverance rover. The launch was made on July 30, 2020, and the arrival of the rover on Mars was on February 18, 2021. This probe is an evolution of Curiosity and improves its performance, as well as decreasing its cost.
Esso is also equipped with a helicopter called Ingenuity. The rover has, like its predecessor, a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which is based on plutonium decay. The landing system has instead been improved, with the inclusion of two evolutions, called "Range Trigger" and "Terrain-Relative Navigation". The objective of the mission is to sift through the past of the planet in search of any traces of biological life. Geological changes will be stored and then analyzed.