SA in sup­port­ing role for Nasa’s new Mars mis­sion

Lo­cal space agency ex­posed to lat­est de­vel­op­ments and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in in­dus­try

Cape Argus - - METRO - MWANGI GITHAHU United Launch Al­liance

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.

THE United Launch Al­liance (ULA) At­las V rocket car­ries the Mars 2020 mis­sion with the Per­se­ver­ance rover be­fore lift-off from Space Launch Com­plex-41 last week. |

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