Mars Sample Return Mission: return to Earth

Mars Sample Return Mission: return to Earth

Mars Sample Return Mission

The Perseverance rover, which touched Martian soil on February 18, will be used to look for signs of life from the past by analyzing the Jezero crater area. However, NASA has a more ambitious plan: to return the rock samples collected by the rover to Earth. This will be possible through the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS).

MAPS: contracted to Northrop Grumman

Perseverance will collect several rock samples from the Martian soil and store them in sterile containers (without terrestrial contaminants). Their recovery and subsequent dispatch to Earth will take place with the Mars Sample Return mission which involves the collaboration between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).

NASA and ESA will supply the components for the construction of two spacecraft: Sample Retrieval Lander and Earth Return Orbiter. Sample Retrieval Lander consists of the Sample Fetch Rover and the Mars Ascent Vehicle. The first will approach Perseverance to retrieve the containers with the rock samples, while the second will launch them into the orbit of Mars. Earth Return Orbiter will intercept the containers and return them to Earth.

The contract for the construction of the propulsion system (MAPS) of the Mars Ascent Vehicle has been awarded to Northrop Grumman for a sum of 60.2 million dollars , which can be increased up to 84.5 million. Delivery must take place within 14 months.

The original plan was for the launch of the Sample Retrieval Lander in 2026 and the arrival on Mars in 2028. The samples of Martian rock were to arrive on Earth in 2031, but the the timing of the mission could be postponed for two years.

Source: NASA

NASA lays groundwork for ambitious Mars Sample Return mission

NASA’s Perseverance rover has yet to collect any rock and soil on the red planet, but the space agency already is working hard on the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission so it can bring any samples it collects to Earth.

The space agency this week announced it has awarded the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS) contract to Virginia-based Northrop Grumman for the development of a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), a critical part of the effort to bring samples collected by Perseverance to Earth.

Worth up to $84.5 million, the contract will see Northrop Grumman provide mission apparatus for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is responsible for the MSR mission’s MAV element.

An illustration showing how the NASA Mars Ascent Vehicle, carrying tubes containing rock and soil samples, could be launched from the surface of Mars as part of the Mars Sample Return mission. NASA

Perseverance, which arrived on the Martian surface a couple of weeks ago, will spend the next two years exploring inside Jezero Crater for signs of past life.

Should the rover come across any rock and soil samples of interest, the plan is to cache them for transportation to Earth as part of the MSR mission. Scientists will then be able to examine the material more closely.

Of course, getting the samples off Mars and all the way here will be no easy feat. Cutting-edge technology will be required to meet the challenge, with Northrop Grumman now selected as one of the key players.

The MSR mission will require four elements: A lander to set down on the Martian surface, a rover that will leave the lander to collect the samples cached by Perseverance, an ascent vehicle to get the samples into Mars orbit, and a spacecraft to receive the material for transportation to Earth.

NASA is working with the European Space Agency on the ambitious MSR mission, which isn’t likely to take place until some time in the early 2030s.

“Bringing Mars samples back to Earth will allow scientists across the world to examine the specimens using sophisticated instruments too large and too complex to send to Mars, and will allow future generations to study them using technology not yet available,” NASA said this week. “Curating the samples on Earth will allow the science community to test new theories and models as they are developed, much as the Apollo samples returned from the moon have done for decades.”

Missed news of Perseverance’s dramatic arrival on Mars last month? Then check out this astonishingly clear footage of the rover’s precarious landing on the distant planet.

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