Career News

September 2, 2020

Can There Be Life on Mars?

Can There Be Life on Mars?

In our human quest for other habitable planets, we have found our most viable second home on Mars. Our indomitable spirit propels a trajectory of technological advancements that fuel further space exploration.

Peraton’s own mission to do the can’t be done has lent itself well to supporting several of NASA’s recent efforts to answer the question: can there be life on Mars?

In 2018, Peraton supported the launch of the NASA probe InSight to survey the Red Planet. InSight’s primary mission has been to collect data on Mars’ interior and to study seismic activity. Concurrently carried into space on the Atlas V rocket boosting Insight were MarCO A and MarCO B, the first-ever interplanetary CubeSats to enter deep space – tiny payloads that could deliver affordable communications between spacecraft and mission control.

InSight, accompanied by MarCO A and B, launched from Vandenberg AFB on May 5, 2018 with Peraton’s experts assisting with mission planning for the simultaneous events. Upon InSight’s launch, the Peraton team supporting NASA’s Space Network performed initial acquisition of the launch vehicle over California, with DSN picking up the spacecraft after separation by the antennas over Goldstone in California and by the antennas over Canberra, Australia. The twin MarCOs were only intended to provide a short supporting role during InSight’s descent, which occurred at midnight on November 26, 2018. The DSN ceased communications with the MarCOs after they successfully relayed data back to Earth during the Mars landing; NASA formally ended the MarCO mission in February 2020.

The DSN continues to provide regular communications between the InSight lander and the InSight project on Earth, as there is no other way to communicate to Mars. For two years, InSight has been taking a raw image of Mars and sending it back to Earth through the DSN. InSight has sent over 5,000 images back. InSight also takes Mars’ “vital signs,” as NASA puts it, such as seismic waves and heat flow. Working closely with NASA and other mission partners, Peraton performed compatibility testing and validation of ground stations and spacecraft, expertise our team routinely delivers as part of mission support for the Deep Space Network (DSN). The Peraton team operates and maintains six large DSN antennas, multiple network and communications systems, several network operations centers, and facilities for testing, logistics, and maintenance and repair, along with an array of engineering services.

Two years later, Peraton again is involved in the exploration of Mars’ surface. Searching for signs of ancient life is one of the core components of the Perseverance rover’s mission. When Perseverance lands in the Jezero Crater on Mars in February 2021, it will collect rock samples, test oxygen in the atmosphere, and explore the crater for chemical traces of water.

The DSN once again is performing as a long-distance telephone operator, facilitating the transfer of data between Perseverance and NASA. Peraton DSN employees at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex established communications around four hours after the Mars 2020 launch and will continue to monitor Perseverance on its journey to Mars and during its descent. The DSN will continue to help NASA communicate with Perseverance until the end of its lifetime. Visit Peraton’s Mars 2020 webpage to learn more about the new mission.

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