Pinoy engineer helped in Perseverance Rover’s successful Mars landing

MANILA, Philippines – The world is cheering with the safe landing of the Perseverance Rover on Mars’ Jezero crater on February 18, 2021, after a 203-day journey traversing 472 million kilometers.
Gregorio Villar III Mars 2020

As everyone celebrates the successful entry of the largest and most advanced rover in the Red Planet, the Pinoy community was also proud of a Filipino-American engineer who is part of the team who helped in National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) latest and most complex mission in Mars.

The operations systems engineer in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Filipino-American engineer Gregorio Villar III was assigned as the Entry Descent Landing (EDL) Systems Engineer of Mars 2020 Mission. The Perseverance Rover is part of the Mars 2020 Mission along with the Ingenuity helicopter drone.

Villar’s job entails helping design the rover to withstand the landing as well as the extreme weather conditions on Mars. In his 12 years with NASA JPL, he led a parachute test campaign in the world’s largest wind tunnel and chaired a council of atmospheric scientists to study the Martian Atmosphere.

Gregorio Villar III Mars 2020
Photo credit: US Embassy in Manila/NASA Mars Exploration Program

He spent more than 7 years building, studying, and testing a system that will land a car-sized rover on Mars. Thanks to the numerous tests, simulations, and redesigns he and his team made, the Perseverance Rover was able to successfully land after a long trip from Earth that began last July 30, 2020.

Perseverance entered Mars’ atmosphere with a speed of Mach 28 (21,000 mph) before slowing down to Mach 10 (7,600 mph) and finally landing on Martian soil aided by a hovering landing craft using a Sky Crane.

The team has made improvements on Perseverance’s landing strategy, making use of a powered descent stage that uses visual localization for active navigation to an ideal landing spot. This makes the landing safer and more efficient.

Features of Perseverance Rover

The Perseverance Rover is a robotic device and semi-autonomous mobile science platform that has a radioisotope thermoelectric generator as a butt-mounted power source to keep it going.

Although Perseverance is similar to its predecessor, Curiosity, in appearance, the newer rover comes with plenty of updates. It features more cameras (a total of 23) which include one with 28-100mm optical zoom.

Perseverance Rover
Photo credit: NASA

It is designed to take many photos to beam back to Earth. What’s more, it comes with microphones so we could finally hear the sounds on Mars. A more capable robot than Curiosity, this upgraded rover is capable of planning its own drive paths so it can travel more each day.

Aside from taking photos and recording sound, Perseverance will also look for possible signs of life and is designed to collect samples from Mars’ surface. It comes with 7 different scientific instruments for better exploration of the red planet.

The primary objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology research, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

— Joy Adalia, The Summit Express

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