Having traveled more than 146 million miles since its launch in late-July, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, carrying the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-built Mars Perseverance rover, crossed the halfway point to the Red Planet on Tuesday afternoon, JPL announced.
The next generation of robotic Mars explorers is slated to touch down at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18 after slamming into the planet’s atmosphere at 11,900 mph, according to JPL.
“At 1:40 p.m. Pacific Time today, our spacecraft will have just as many miles in its metaphorical rearview mirror as it will out its metaphorical windshield,” Perseverance Navigator Julie Kangas of JPL said in a written statement. “While I don’t think there will be cake, especially since most of us are working from home, it’s still a pretty neat milestone. Next stop, Jezero Crater.”
Since both the Earth and Mars continue in their orbits around the sun during the seven-month voyage through deep space, “the rover is not halfway between the two worlds,” according to Kangas. “In straight-line distance, Earth is 26.6 million miles behind Perseverance and Mars is 17.9 million miles in front.”
Relative to the sun, the spacecraft carrying the rover was traveling at 61,191 mph, JPL officials said.
Radio transmissions, which travel at the speed of light, took two minutes and 22 seconds to reach the spacecraft from Earth as of Tuesday.
“By time of landing, Perseverance will have covered 292.5 million miles, and Mars will be about 130 million miles away from Earth,” according to the JPL statement. “At that point, a transmission will take about 11.5 minutes to reach the spacecraft.”
Mission operators have been busy completing a checklist of tests and preparations ahead of the planned landing in February. The team made their first contact with the spacecraft since its launch earlier this month.
“If it is part of our spacecraft and electricity runs through it, we want to confirm it is still working properly following launch,” Perseverance Chief Engineer Keith Comeaux said. Between these checkouts – along with charging the rover’s and Mars Helicopter’s batteries, uploading files and sequences for surface operations, and planning for and executing trajectory correction maneuvers – our plate is full right up to landing.”
More information about the mission is available online at mars.nasa.gov/mars2020.