Giant size ambitions need equally large size planes to make them happen and on May 18 the supersized AN-124-100 ‘Ruslan’ Antanov cargo airplane brought a crucial component to Cape Canaveral for NASA’s next Mars missions – an Atlas 5 rocket booster that will play a key part in the journey from Florida into space.
Flown by cargo specialists Volga-Dnepr the giant Antanov is the only aircraft large enough to carry the Atlas 5 – a 32-meter long rocket booster that will hurl the NASA Perseverance towards the Red planet to its final launch location. In addition to the over-length piece, Volga-Dnepr also transported payload fairings and RD-180 engines for the special mission.
The high profile delivery signalled the start of a new phase of launch preparations for the Perseverance Rover, the centrepiece of NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars 2020 mission. The launch is scheduled at 9:10 a.m. on July 17 but Perseverance’s team recently extended the mission’s launch period — the range of days they can launch in order to reach Mars. Navigators calculated the original launch period, July 17-Aug. 5, over four years ago — long before the final weight of the spacecraft was known.
With the new spacecraft data in hand, as well as an update on Atlas V performance margins from United Launch Alliance, the navigation team has expanded the period to August 11, but whatever happens NASA says Perseverance will lifts off during its launch period and land in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.