SA in supporting role for Nasa’s new Mars mission
Cape Town - Is there life on Mars? Nasa’s 2020 Perseverance rover mission is on its way to the Red Planet to find out - and South Africa’s space agency is at the heart of the project.
The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) is supporting the launch and early flight phase of Nasa’s Mars 2020 mission, which is carrying the Perseverance rover to the Red Planet.
The mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the US state of Florida, on Thursday afternoon, South African time.
Sansa spokesperson Dikeledi Mogorosi said: “Our team at Sansa has been part of pre-testing and configurations of the rocket launch.
"We will be tracking the rocket for a number of days and our team will be in constant communication with Nasa for further instructions.
“As part of Nasa’s Mars Exploration Program, the Mars 2020 rover, named Perseverance, will explore the Martian surface and seek to answer questions about the potential of ancient life on Mars.
“The rover will also gather information and test new technology that will help address the challenges of future human missions to Mars,” said Mogorosi.
Sansa business development manager Tiaan Strydom told of how Sansa came to be involved in the project.
“Sansa Space Operations were contracted to support the mission in a back-up capacity.
“That said, we had to do full mission testing and readiness review and had to monitor the mission. If anything went wrong, Sansa would have supported the non-nominal operations,” he said.
“In terms of the space industry, South Africa continues to get exposure to the latest developments and technological advances in the industry.”
Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine added: “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. 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.”
Nasa said that Perseverance was the heaviest, largest and the most sophisticated rover Nasa had yet sent to Mars.
“The Mars 2020 spacecraft is composed of the rocket-powered Mars descent stage, the aeroshell that will enclose and protect the rover and its descent stage (the aeroshell is composed of the backshell and the heat shield, the latter protecting Perseverance when it enters the Martian atmosphere), and the solar-powered ring-shaped cruise stage, as well as the rover itself.”
Sansa Space Operations, based at Hartebeesthoek, west of Pretoria, provides ground station support for space launches by a number of leading space agencies and companies, including Nasa.