First published 15 February 2021

The Perseverance Rover (Mars 2020) is due to touch down Friday morning, Australia time, after a 470 million km journey. The rover, in its mission which is due to last at least one Mars year (687 Earth days), will search Jezero Crater for signs of ancient life and collect samples that will eventually be collected and returned to Earth.

QUT's Dr David Flannery is a member of the Perseverance science team, a Long-Term Planner for the mission, and a Co-Investigator of a rock chemistry instrument aboard the rover which is led by QUT alumnus Dr Abigail Allwood at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).

PIXL is an elemental chemistry instrument on the arm of the Perseverance rover which will determine the composition of Mars rock, looking for signs of ancient microbial life in the rocks and helping to characterise samples for caching.

 

Entry, descent and landing. Credit NASA.

 

Dr Flannery said a group of QUT researchers and students, including PhD students Vanessa Zepeda and Brendan Orenstein, researchers at the QUT Centre for Robotics, and undergraduate students studying Earth sciences, will work with NASA JPL on a project that will help guide the rover on its key astrobiology task.

“The opportunity for QUT researchers and students to take part in this mission is a very rare, particularly in Australia,” Dr Flannery said.

NASA also commissioned QUT to develop software for the Perseverance Rover that will crunch complex geochemical data captured by the rover’s scientific instruments.

“One of the things we will be doing is looking at rocks collected from Australia that are similar to the rocks the rover will find on the surface of Mars, and we will be coming up with better ways to analyse them on Mars," Dr Flannery said.

“With this mission, there is the opportunity to answer the profound question of whether life existed elsewhere in our solar system.

 

 

“We have students studying the interaction of Mars analogue rocks and x-rays generated by analytical instruments on the rover’s arm. Students are applying this new knowledge directly to the exploration of Mars as they participate in the day-to-day science investigations of the rover."

Students will also be working with Dr Flannery and QUT’s robotics group to build and operate similar instrument platforms on Earth, including a prototype Mars helicopter.

The Perseverance Rover will land in the 45km wide Jezero Crater which billions of years ago was home to a river delta and lake.

This will be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock. Future missions are being planned to send spacecraft to Mars to collect the samples and bring them back to Earth for further study.

The Perseverance rover’s drill will cut intact rock cores that are about the size of a piece of chalk and place them in sample tubes that it will carry to a suitable drop-off location on Mars.

Perseverance is the most sophisticated rover NASA has sent to Mars, and is carrying several cutting edge technologies including a helicopter named Ingenuity which will be the first aircraft to attempt powered, controlled flight on another planet.

The Perseverance Rover will be collecting important data about Mars’s geology and climate which could give scientists a better understanding of why Earth and Mars, despite some early similarities, ended up so differently.

Applications are now open for Masters and PhD projects to work with Dr Flannery (david.flannery@qut.edu.au).

Research reported in this press release is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under subcontract number 1654048.

 

Media contact:

Rod Chester, QUT Media, 07 3138 9449, rod.chester@qut.edu.au

After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901, media@qut.edu.au

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