NASA Mars Perseverance Rover: Making Fast Tracks to the Delta

NASA Mars Perseverance Rover Driving

Animation of the Perseverance Rover driving on Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance is in a drive campaign going faster than any previous rover. How fast, you may ask? Its actual speed is just under a tenth of a mile per hour, but it’s faster than its predecessors.

It is making comparatively rapid progress by devoting several hours per day to driving on very smooth terrain. That has allowed Perseverance to break previous rovers’ records for the distance traveled in one day, now standing at 319.8 m, the distance it traveled on Sol 351.

Curiosity made a number of drives over 100 meters, but none over 200 meters. That was due in part to rockier terrain.

Like Perseverance, Opportunity, which landed way back in 2004, had some very smooth patches of terrain, allowing it to travel up to 228 meters in one day using solar power just a year after its landing.

Mars Perseverance Rover Wheel Tracks Sol 388

Mars Perseverance Sol 388 – Right Navigation Camera: Image acquired on March 24, 2022 (Sol 388) at the local mean solar time of 15:50:05 by the Right Navigation Camera (Navcam), showing the back of the rover and its wheel tracks. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Overall, it’s not just the single-day drive that matters; it is more difficult to put together a continuous campaign. That requires enough energy, enough time in the day, and enough data volume to Earth to support next-day drive decisions. Perseverance seems to have all of that, allowing our team to put together a sustained campaign that has met and exceeded expectations. In one week it has traveled about 1.5 km, effectively a rate of one mile per week. As of Friday, March 25, 2022, which was Sol 389, Perseverance had driven a total of 6.6 km (4.1 miles). You can watch the progress of Perseverance here.

I must admit that I was much more pessimistic. Over the years I have seen many unexpected situations that bedeviled planetary rovers, so I tend to expect the unexpected, having a “wait-and-see” attitude toward new achievements. So I am truly excited to see Perseverance pull off this rapid drive campaign. In terms of overall distance, Perseverance has a lot left if it wants to catch up with Opportunity (45 km) or Curiosity (over 27 km). I believe Perseverance will eventually surpass these other rovers, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Not to be missed, Perseverance’s intrepid companion, Ingenuity’s longest single-day flight (#9) was 625 m, logged back in July 2021. That is about twice as far in one day as the rover has gone. Ingenuity’s flight log, showing all of its travels, is here. Ingenuity is currently heading northwest across Seitah, aiming to rendezvous with Perseverance near the de

Written by Roger Wiens, Principal Investigator, SuperCam / Co-Investigator, SHERLOC instrument at LANL

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