Perseverance rover attached to Atlas V rocket ahead of Mars launch
The spacecraft containing NASA's Perseverance rover has been successfully mated with the rocket that will propel it to Mars. The autonomous rover inside its protective aeroshell, along with the cruise stage and descent stage, are now fixed to the upper stage of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster in preparation for the scheduled July 30 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Originally scheduled to lift off on July 17, the launch of the Perseverance Mars rover was delayed due to technical problems and logistical disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. However, NASA says that when the spacecraft was completed and its exact weight known, NASA and ULA engineers were able to calculate how much fuel was available for the Atlas V and determined that a new launch window from July 30 to August 15 was possible.
For the mating process, the spacecraft was hoisted 129 ft aloft by a 60-ton roof hoist inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41. The craft was inside the nose cone or payload fairing that was installed to protect it during its first minutes of flight. The spacecraft is fixed to the rocket by physical and electrical connections, which will remain in place until 60 minutes after launch when they will be severed by explosive bolts as Perseverance begins its seven-month voyage to the Red Planet.
Regardless of the exact launch day, NASA says that Perseverance will land on Mars on February 18, 2021. This date is being maintained because it helps mission planners to predict lighting and temperature conditions at the landing site, as well as ensuring that Mars-orbiting satellites are available for observations and data relaying to Earth.
"I have seen my fair share of spacecraft being lifted onto rockets," says John McNamee, project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "But this one is special because there are so many people who contributed to this moment. To each one of them I want to say, we got here together, and we'll make it to Mars the same way."