The NASA rover blasted off on schedule from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 12.50pm BST (7.50am EDT, 4.50am PDT). Perseverance launched aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket, which propelled the rover on a transfer orbit that will intercept Mars next year. NASA expects Perseverance to land in Mars’ Jezero crater on February 18, 2021, where it will search for signs of alien life.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “It was an amazing launch; very successful.
“It went right on time, it is on a trajectory now that has been done with pinpoint accuracy, and it is, in fact, on its way to Mars.”
Because of the orbital alignments between Mars and Earth, NASA’s launch window would have closed on August 15.
Payloads can only be launched to Mars every 26 months when an orbital transfer window allows for the most optimal launch.
With additional pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, NASA’s launch was all the more impressive.
Matt Wallace, deputy project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said: “(The ULA and Launch Services team) gave us a perfect launch this morning – right down the middle; couldn’t have aimed us any better.
“They really pushed hard to keep us on this limited planetary launch window in 2020.”
United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno said: “We ignited, the Atlas performed nominally throughout the mission, and we ended with just an extraordinarily accurate orbital insertion.”
It was an amazing launch; very successful
Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator
Where is Perseverance now?
Perseverance launched into orbit at 12.50pm BST (7.50am EDT, 4.50am PDT) on Thursday.
The rover is now cruising through space on an orbit that will intercept Mars in seven months.
Perseverance will travel about 310 million miles before it reaches the Red Planet.
Mr Bridenstine said: “With the launch of Perseverance, we begin another historic mission of exploration.
“This amazing explorer’s journey has already required the very best from all of us to get it to launch through these challenging times.
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“Now we can look forward to its incredible science and to bringing samples of Mars home even as we advance human missions to the Red Planet.
“As a mission, as an agency, and as a country, we will persevere.”
Less than two minutes into the flight, the Atlas V rocket separated from its four Solid Booster Rockets (SRBs) and continued pushing its payload into space.
About four minutes and 22 seconds into the flight, the Atlas V’s main engines were cut off an seconds later, the second stage separated from the first stage booster.
About four minutes and 38 seconds in, the second stage fired its engine to place Perseverance in orbit.
Then, nearly 45 minutes into the flight, the Centaur second stage burned its engines to put the rover on a Mars-bound trajectory.
Mic Woltman from NASA’s Launch Services Program said: “This is the burn that really gets us moving with fast velocity in the direction we need to go.”
About 57 minutes after launch, Perseverance separated from the rocket.
NASA said: “Just over an hour into its flight, Perseverance is now officially on its way to Mars.”
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