How the Seven Minutes of Terror Could Make or Break NASA’s Perseverance Rover
The United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter and China’s Tianwen-1 mission have already arrived at Mars’ orbit. And it’s been seven months since they took off, but for Mars 2020 and Tianwen-1, one of the hardest parts is still yet to come: actually sticking the landing on the red planet. Fondly known as seven minutes of terror.
It takes about seven minutes from the time that the spacecraft first comes in contact with Mars’ atmosphere until we get down to the ground. This part of the mission is known as the Entry, Descent, and Landing or EDL. And it all starts with the spacecraft hurtling through the martian atmosphere at roughly 20,000 kilometers per hour, causing the external heat shield to heat up to around 1,300 degrees celsius.
With some help from its heat shield, the vehicle slows down to about 1,600 kilometers per hour, and this is when its supersonic parachute deploys. The heat shield then pops off, but the parachute doesn’t slow the rover down enough for a safe landing. The main reason for this is because of Mars’ thin atmosphere.