What is the Mars 2020 spacecraft?
The spacecraft is the protective "spaceship" that transports the precious cargo, Perseverance, from Earth to Mars. The spacecraft is separate from the launch vehicle, the rocket that carries the spacecraft, and the rover inside it, outside of Earth's atmosphere and gravitational pull.
The spacecraft consists of several mechanical components – the cruise stage, descent stage, backshell, and heat shield – plus the rover. These major parts of the Mars 2020 mission spacecraft design were based on the successful Mars Science Laboratory mission, which delivered the Curiosity rover to Mars in August 2012.
After its seven-month cruise through space, the Mars 2020 spacecraft maneuvers down through the Martian atmosphere to deposit Perseverance onto the Red Planet. In the process of entry, descent and landing, certain spacecraft parts fall away one by one until the rover is safely on solid Martian ground.
The cruise stage supports the whole vehicle during the seven-month cruise to Mars, keeping it powered up, in communication, and on target. It features a large solar array, to provide power to the rover during the seven-month trip. Radio antennas keep the vehicle in contact with Earth. Fuel tanks and small thrusters on the cruise stage allow it to adjust the vehicle’s course as needed during the cruise phase.
The backshell and heat shield together form the aeroshell, which protects the rover during its turbulent descent to Mars. The backshell also houses additional thrusters that fire during the guided entry portion of entry, descent and landing. Inside the top of the backshell is the canister from which the parachute is released during descent.
The descent stage is the rover’s free-flying “jetpack,” which separates from the backshell and uses eight engines to slow the final descent. It also contains the landing radar system used to make last-minute decisions about touchdown. Just before touchdown, the descent stage lowers the rover on cables before gently placing it on the surface. Once the rover is on the ground, the descent stage flies off to make its own uncontrolled landing on the surface, a safe distance away from the rover.
The rover is a six-wheeled vehicle, loaded with cameras and science instruments. It’s designed to explore the Martian surface, make discoveries and collect samples.
Learn more about the rover ›
The heat shield helps slow the vehicle down during its final approach, while protecting the rover inside from the intense heat experienced during entry into the Martian atmosphere. The heat shield could be exposed to temperatures as hot as 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit (~1,300 degrees Celsius) as it descends through the Martian atmosphere.