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NASA aces most challenging Mars rover landing to date

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After a nearly 300 million mile (480 million kilometer), seven-month-long journey, the world watched as NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission successfully completed the most challenging and precise landing the agency has ever attempted on Thursday (Feb. 18). Perseverance is NASA’s fifth rover and overall ninth mission to successfully land on the Red Planet.

The first image of the Martian surface capture by NASA’s Perseverance rover moments after a successful touchdown on Mars. (Credit: NASA/JPL – Caltech)

On Thursday afternoon, the alien invader punched through the relatively thin Martian atmosphere streaking across the sky at a blazing 12,100 mph (19,500 kph). Then it shed a few layers, deployed the largest-ever supersonic parachute, and slowed down just enough to use a rocket-propelled crane to drop an autonomous, nuclear-powered, robotic astrobiologist called Perseverance on the surface of Mars.

Flawlessly completing the entry, descent, and landing sequence of its mission to land in Mars’ hostile Jezero Crater, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission officially marked the completion of its interplanetary travel phase and began its mission to collect evidence of ancient, microbial Martian life.

Getting to Mars

On July 30, 2020, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Base. Aboard that rocket was NASA’s most ambitious Mars mission to date. The launch phase of the mission suffered a few minor delays ultimately shifting the launch date from July 18, 2020 to July 30, 2020. However, ULA’s Atlas V first stage rocket and Centaur upper stage delivered NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission into such an accurate trajectory that the 2,260 lb (1,025 kg) rover landed on its specified February 18 landing date despite the delays in the launch timeline.

In total, three missions to Mars – China’s Tianwen-1, the United Arab Emirates Hope Probe, and NASA’s Perseverance – left Earth in the summer of 2020. All three missions targeted to leave Earth prior to August to best take advantage of the minimal distance between the planets during what is called opposition. The opposition between Earth and Mars only occurs once every 22 months. If the Perseverance mission had missed its launch date it would’ve had to wait until 2022 for a chance to travel to the Red Planet.

An illustration of the route Mars 2020 takes to the Red Planet, including several trajectory correction maneuvers (TCMs) to adjust its flight path on the fly. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Entry, Descent, and Landing – a controlled disassembly

As Perseverance descended into the Martian atmosphere the Cruise Phase – hardware that propelled the spacecraft through space for seven months – was jettisoned. The Perseverance rover safely tucked inside the aeroshell and protected by a robust heat shield soared through the thin Martian atmosphere enduring an extreme amount of friction that produced heat energy that reached up to 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,300 degrees Celsius).

This illustration depicts five major components of the Mars 2020 spacecraft. Top to bottom: cruise stage, backshell, descent stage, Perseverance rover and heat shield. The various components perform critical roles during the vehicle’s cruise to Mars and its dramatic Entry, Descent, and Landing. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Once through the period of peak heating the heat shield was jettisoned exposing Perseverance to the Martian environment for the first time. Then about 7 miles (11 kilometers) from the surface the largest supersonic parachute NASA has ever sent to another planet – 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) in diameter – was deployed drastically slowing the spacecraft.

While still descending, the controlled descent module – called the sky crane – separated from the backshell about 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) above the surface to free-fly in the Martian atmosphere. The descent module used a new landing technology called Terrain-Relative Navigation used a constant stream of visual input and guidance collected from the Vision Compute Element and Rover Compute Element to determine the safest reachable landing site.

In this illustration, NASA’s Perseverance rover gets its first look at the Martian surface below, after dropping its heat shield just under six minutes after entry into the Mars atmosphere. (Credit: NASA?JPL-Caltech)

The throttleable rockets on the powered descent module steered the rover to its landing spot in Mars’ Jezero Crater and slowed to approximately 1.7 mph (2.7 kph) about 66 feet (20 meters) above the Martian surface. Perseverance was then lowered using a system of Nylon cords which were autonomously severed upon touchdown. The final stage of the controlled disassembly was for the sky crane to throttle its rockets back up and fly away for a crash landing a safe distance from the rover.

Ultimately, the Perseverance rover landed about a kilometer south of the intended delta of the Jezero Crater.

An image released by NASA of the landing location of the Perseverance rover about a kilometer away from the delta of Mars’ Jezero Crater. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Perseverance made it to Mars, now what?

The second image of the Martian surface capture by NASA’s Perseverance rover moments after a successful touchdown on Mars. (Credit: NASA/JPL- Caltech)

Getting to Mars was only the first of many milestones that Perseverance is expected to achieve during its projected one Mars year-long mission – about 687 Earth days. Now that the rover has touched down the science will begin.

First and foremost once Perseverance stretched its legs, so to speak, the first event took place just minutes after landing. Perseverance captured photos of the Martian surface with a pair of engineering cameras called Hazard Cameras mounted to the front and back of the rover.

The upgraded Navigation and Hazard cameras feature the capability to capture imagery of the Martian surface in 20 megapixel high-definition resolution for the first time. In the coming days, more images will be relayed back to Earth taken with the rover’s Navigation cameras and Mastcam-Z.

This image presents a selection of the 23 cameras on NASA’s 2020 Mars rover. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Once on Mars, the control of the Perseverance rover was transitioned from NASA JPL’s EDL team to the Perseverance Surface team. The Surface Phase of the Mars 2020 mission – or the phase of the mission that consists of the four main science objectives – began about twenty minutes after the touchdown.

Perseverance was sent to Mars to determine whether life ever existed on Mars, characterize the climate, characterize the geology, and prepare for the eventual human exploration of Mars. To achieve these massive science goals, the robotic astrobiologist was sent with an impressive suite of scientific research tools. Over the next 30 Martian days – called sols – the rover will begin to unfurl and begin testing the various pieces of hardware in preparation for exploring the delta of Jezero Crater.

This diagram illustrated the many science research components that are included aboard the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. (Credi: NASA/ JPL – Caltech)

Deploying the stowaway

Perseverance not only took a roving science lab to Mars, but it also took the first rotorcraft helicopter to be deployed to another planet dubbed Ingenuity. Ingenuity is a small double-bladed rotorcraft weighing only about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms).

After the initial 30 Ssls of stretching its legs, Perseverance will travel a short distance to find a flat area of the Martian surface to deploy the Ingenuity helicopter. Once deployed, the Ingenuity team will have a technology demonstration window of approximately 30 sols to complete the first flight test of Ingenuity – the first time powered, controlled flight will be attempted on another planet.

Landing is just the beginning

Graphic detailing the sample return process. Credit: ESA

As exciting as landing on Mars was, it is only the beginning for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. The nuclear-powered astrobiology robot will spend the next Martian year excavating the surface of a very rich delta in the Jezero crater searching for the first evidence of ancient, microbial life.

Even more exciting is that Perseverance is only the first phase of a larger mission called the Mars Sample Return mission that will someday bring the excavated samples that Perseverance collects back to Earth in a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency.

Although the Perseverance mission is only intended to last one Martian year, Perseverance has the capacity to extend its mission to nearly 15 years thanks to its power source, a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) which produces a steady stream of electricity provided by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238. Perseverance could potentially outlast all of NASA’s other Mars missions.

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NASA aces most challenging Mars rover landing to date

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Rivian adopts mobile service model for maximum convenience

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Rivian Service promises to provide a proactive and personal approach to mobile vehicle service. Rivian seems to have developed an intricate mobile service model to make vehicle care more convenient for R1T and R1S owners.

Over-the-air updates will support Rivian’s mobile service model to optimize a vehicle’s performance continuously. Most of the over-the-air updates will take place at night, making it more convenient for owners.

The company’s mobile service will also be backed by Rivian Remote Care, enabling the company to perform comprehensive diagnostics from afar. With Rivian Remote Care, technicians can proactively identify most vehicle problems even before the owner notices them.

Credit: Rivian

“We’re remotely diagnosing vehicles and pre-ordering parts if needed. By the time we arrive for your mobile service appointment, we’re ready to resolve your issue on the spots,” said Edwin, a Rivian Service technician.

Rivian will have a fleet of mobile service vans ready for deployment at any time. Rivian mobile technicians can attend to calls at an owner’s home, workplace, or anywhere service is needed within the United States and Canada. Rivian plans to expand its mobile services as it reaches other markets.

Rivian technicians will also bring vehicles that need extensive care to service centers and return them to owners afterward. The company will provide a loaner to owners while their cars are cared for at the service center. Rivian has not specified what vehicles will be used as loaners.

Rivian plans to open over 40 service centers in the United States and Canada soon. More service centers are planned for the future as Rivian grows. The company has also established a network of Rivian-owned and Rivian-certified collision centers for bodywork and exterior damages.

Rivian Service seems to go hand-in-hand with the company’s warranty coverage. Rivian’s warranty system is also quite intricate. It includes a Comprehensive Warranty, a Battery Warranty, a Drivetrain Warranty, and a Perforation Corrosion Warranty.

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Rivian adopts mobile service model for maximum convenience

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Lucid Motors, Rivian sued by Illinois car dealers for direct sales

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Lucid Motors and Rivian were sued by the Illinois Automobile Dealers Association, the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, and some individual franchised auto dealerships in the state for selling vehicles directly to consumers.

The numerous plaintiffs are accusing both Rivian and Lucid of violating state laws that require new vehicles to be sold through franchised dealerships. The direct-to-consumer sales platform has become popular with electric car companies, especially Tesla who has never operated through dealerships. While each of the aforementioned automotive companies does have showrooms in operation to display their products, they do not have salespeople or sales managers who negotiate prices with customers. The costs are the same for everyone, a strategy that has alleviated a lot of stress from the car buying process.

In May 2019, the dealers, the Secretary of State, and Tesla entered an agreement that would consent to the automaker obtaining no more than 13 dealer licenses in Illinois. This allowed showrooms to sell vehicles to customers, but it only applies to Tesla and not to Lucid and Rivian.

The new lawsuit against Rivian and Lucid alleges the Secretary of State of “turning a blind eye to Rivian’s unlicensed sales operations,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

“We have no choice but to file this lawsuit, both to protect consumers as well as the hundreds of franchised dealers across the state who contribute to the local economy,” Pete Sander, the Illinois Automobile Dealers Association President, said. Sander represents more than 700 auto dealers that operate over 2,300 franchises across the state.

Credit: Lucid Motors

The Illinois Vehicle Code and the Illinois Motor Vehicle Franchise Act were cited in the lawsuit. These mandate that all vehicle sales to the public “must be made through licensed and independent franchised” dealers.

Lucid operates out of California and has its main production facility in Arizona. The company recently opened a sales studio in Oak Brook, a suburb of Chicago that is home to several large corporations like Ace Hardware and Blistex. However, Rivian is based in Normal, Illinois, and the lawsuit seems to affect it more than Lucid simply because of the company’s base location.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office issued “an informal opinion” last summer that stated new automotive manufactures are not expressly required by law to establish franchised dealerships to sell their cars. This gives companies like Rivian and Lucid the opportunity to sell their products directly to customers unless the lawsuit filed by the numerous plaintiffs moves forward. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office said they would review the complaint when it comes to their office.

Lucid Motors, Rivian sued by Illinois car dealers for direct sales

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Elon Musk’s Starlink Beta meets opposition from India’s industry body

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It appears that Starlink is facing a challenge in India, a country expected to receive coverage from the satellite internet system sometime next year. 

The opposition against Starlink was initiated by the Broadband India Forum, which has written a request to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The forum asked the bodies to block SpaceX from pre-selling the beta version of the satellite internet service in the country. 

As noted in a report from The Economic Times, TV Ramachandran, the industry body president, argued that SpaceX does not have the necessary license or authorizations from the government to offer its beta services in India. 

The Broadband India Forum represents companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Hughes, and Microsoft. In its request, the forum asked the bodies to “urgently intervene to protect fair competition and adherence to existing policy and regulatory norms.” It also noted that SpaceX seemed to be “non-compliant to existing guidelines” in India.  

Explaining further, the forum added that Starlink does not have its own ground stations in the country, nor does it have the satellite frequency authorization from the ISRO and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). According to the forum, these are needed for a company to be allowed to offer beta services in India. 

SpaceX, for its part, has not issued a statement about the matter. In a statement to the Times, a senior TRAI official has stated that the issue brought up by the Broadband India Forum “would be examined.”

SpaceX is currently offering pre-orders for the beta version of Starlink in India for a fully refundable deposit of $99 (about Rs 7,000). The satellite internet service is poised to compete with other satellite communication services such as the Bharti Group and the UK government-owned OneWeb, which is also expected to launch its services sometime in 2022. Competition may also be coming in the form of Amazon’s Project Kuiper, which is yet to provide internet services, even in beta form. 

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Elon Musk’s Starlink Beta meets opposition from India’s industry body

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Elon Musk to become board member of Endeavor Group Holdings: SEC Filing

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk will join the Endeavor Group Holdings Board of Directors ahead of the group’s Initial Public Offering, a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission says.

Musk, 49, currently spends his time with Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company, but will join the Endeavor board in the coming months, the filing says. He is currently listed as a “Director Nominee.” However, the filing describes what Musk’s eventual position will be.

“Mr. Musk is currently a director nominee and will become a member of our board of directors at or prior to the pricing of this offering,” the filing says. “Mr. Musk was selected to serve on our board of directors because of his professional background and experience running a public company, his previously held senior executive-level positions, his service on other public company boards and his experience starting, growing and integrating businesses.”

Endeavor includes several well-known brands under its parent company, including talent agencies WME and IMG, and premier mixed martial arts promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship, most commonly referred to as the UFC. The UFC was purchased by Endeavor’s WME-IMG joint venture in July 2016 for $4.2 billion.

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Endeavor had attempted to launch an IPO in the past but pulled the plug on the effort at the last minute in the Fall of 2019 when market conditions were unfavorable. The company may have sensed it wouldn’t reach its fundraising goal, according to Deadline, and opted to wait for better economic circumstances.

It also skipped 2020 as a possible date for its IPO due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite pulling in less of a profit compared to 2019, CEO Ari Emanuel stated the company remained resilient despite the tough circumstances and is attempting to initiate an IPO in the coming months.

“As challenging a year as 2020 was, it underscored the strength, creativity, and resilience of our people who mobilized time and time again in the face of overwhelming odds,” Emanuel wrote in the S-1 filing. “We made difficult decisions but worked as a team to find creative solutions and best position the business for the future.” The company reported $3.5 billion in revenue last year, down $1.1 billion from 2019.

The filing for the possible Endeavor IPO indicates the company wants to raise $100 million, but this number could ultimately change.

As long as Endeavor can raise the correct capital and it avoids any other dicey economic uncertainties, it will trade under the “EDR” ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.

Elon Musk to become board member of Endeavor Group Holdings: SEC Filing

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