Alabama-built rocket in final preparations for launching NASA Mars 2020 mission
A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket built in Alabama is in final preparations to launch NASA’s Mars 2020 mission with the Perseverance rover.
On Monday, NASA tweeted that the Launch Readiness Review has been completed for the launch, which is scheduled for Thursday, July 30, at 6:50 a.m. CT. This begins a two-hour launch window at Space Launch Complex-41 in Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
As previously reported by Yellowhammer News, the mission has significant ties to the state of Alabama.
The Atlas V rocket for the mission was assembled at ULA’s world-class manufacturing facility in Decatur.
The Yellowhammer State rocket builder already has a storied history launching missions to the Red Planet. ULA and its heritage rockets have launched every previous U.S.-led mission to Mars, beginning in the 1960s. In fact, the launch of this latest mission will mark ULA’s 20th trip to Mars.
Mars 2020 will be the fifth mission to the planet launched by the Atlas V rocket specifically, following the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2005, the Curiosity rover in 2011, the MAVEN orbiter in 2013 and the InSight lander in 2018.
One of the most powerful rockets in the Atlas V fleet, the 541 configuration will be utilized for Mars 2020. This features four solid rocket boosters, providing optimum performance to precisely deliver a range of mission types. In addition to three national security and two weather satellites, an Atlas V 541 rocket previously launched NASA’s Curiosity rover on its 10-month, 354 million-mile journey to the surface of Mars.
To date, ULA has launched 139 times total with 100% mission success.
“We are proud to launch the Mars 2020 mission to orbit,” stated Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “The discoveries from the Mars 2020 mission will provide crucial science and research that will help inform NASA’s future plans to put humans on the Moon and Mars. We look forward to continuing the Mars mission legacy with our NASA partners.”
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of ancient microbial life. It will also characterize the planet’s climate and geology, be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet — which will come through the historic Alabama-powered Artemis program.
Another Alabama link to the mission is the name of the helicopter that will launch aboard the rover. A high school student in Tuscaloosa County earlier this year won a NASA competition to decide the helicopter’s name. “Ingenuity” won out over more than 28,000 other submissions.
Vaneeza Rupani, the competition winner, wrote, “The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration. Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe.”
According to NASA, the helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover. The vehicle will eventually deploy and operate on its own throughout the planet; the helicopter will become the first aircraft to attempt powered flight on another planet, per NASA. Ingenuity weighs four pounds and operates under solar power.
You can follow along with the Mars 2020 mission here, courtesy of NASA, including a launch countdown clock.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn