NASA Plans To Bring Back Rock Samples From Mars

The conceptual design stage of NASA’s Mars Sample Return Program, which is almost finished, has concluded reviewing the system requirements. The Perseverance rover of NASA is currently collecting samples on the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater during this phase of the program, and the architecture was examined and improved at this time.

The campaign’s design, which incorporates contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA), is anticipated to simplify future missions and boost their chances of success. Every aspect of a mission plan is scrutinized during the conceptual design phase, according to Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

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There have been several important and useful revisions to the strategy, which are directly related to Perseverance’s recent achievements at Jezero and our Mars helicopter’s outstanding performance. A new estimate of Perseverance’s anticipated lifetime is taken into account in this sophisticated mission architecture. The main method of getting samples to the NASA Sample Retrieval Lander, which is carrying the Mars Ascent Vehicle and the ESA Sample Transfer Arm, will be perseverance.

As a result, the Sample Fetch Rover and its associated second lander will no longer be a part of the Mars Sample Return effort. Two sample recovery helicopters will be part of the Sample Retrieval Lander, based on the design of the Ingenuity helicopter, which has made 29 missions to Mars and endured for more than a year past its expected lifespan. A secondary capacity for retrieving samples stashed on Mars’ surface will be provided by the helicopters.

The NASA-supplied Capture, Containment, and Return System for the ESA Earth Return Orbiter continues to be an essential component of the program’s architecture. The samples are anticipated to reach Earth in 2033 because the Earth Return Orbiter and Sample Retrieval Lander are scheduled to launch in the fall of 2027 and the summer of 2028, respectively.

The program is anticipated to enter its preliminary design phase this October, with its architecture having been established during this conceptual design phase. The program will finish technology development in this phase, which is anticipated to last around a year, and produce engineering prototypes of the main mission components.

The 22 participating states in Europe’s Terrae Novae space exploration program were given this improved Mars Sample Return mission proposal in May. The states will discuss stopping the development of the Sample Fetch Rover at their upcoming conference in September.

According to David Parker, director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, “ESA is continuing at full speed the development of both the Earth Return Orbiter, which will make the historic round-trip from Earth to Mars and back, and the Sample Transfer Arm, which will robotically place the sample tubes aboard the Orbiting Sample Container before its launch from the surface of the Red Planet.

Depending on how much money the U.S. and ESA member states have available, each state will make a different contribution to the campaign. In the upcoming year, more concrete agreements between the two agencies will be developed. Working together on monumental projects like the Mars Sample Return not only yields priceless information about our role in the cosmos but also strengthens our bonds with one another on Earth, according to Zurbuchen.

The Mars Sample Return Campaign has already completed its first phase. The Perseverance rover has gathered 11 compelling rock core samples and one air sample since it landed at Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. It would be possible for scientists from all over the world to examine Mars samples using sophisticated equipment that is too huge and complex to travel to Mars, as well as for future generations to study them.

Curating the samples on Earth would also enable the scientific community to put new hypotheses and models to the test as they are created, just like the Apollo samples that were brought back from the Moon have been doing for decades. The goal of solar system exploration has been a top priority since the 1970s and in the previous three National Academy of Sciences Planetary Science Decadal Surveys. This strategic alliance between NASA and ESA will achieve that goal.

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