NASA details its plan to bring rock samples from Mars to Earth

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The Perseverance rover has already collected 11 rock samples on the Red Planet. But bringing them back to Earth is a very complex mission for the US space agency.

NASA detailed on Wednesday how around 30 Martian rock samples should be brought back to Earth by 2033, a plan that now includes sending two new helicopters to the Red Planet.

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The Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars a year and a half ago, has already collected 11 rock samples. But bringing them back to Earth so they can be studied in detail, looking for traces of ancient life, turns out to be a complex mission, requiring multiple steps.

A rocket to retrieve Perseverance’s samples.

Until now, NASA had planned to send another rover to Mars, which would have collected the samples deposited by Perseverance to take them to a lander. On the latter there will be a minirocket, ready to take off the samples in orbit, in 2031.

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Eventually, this second rover simply won’t exist. Instead, Perseverance, which has proven itself well, will be attached directly to the rocket (called the Mars Ascent Vehicle).

Samples will be retrieved from Perseverance using a robotic arm, built by the European Space Agency (ESA), and integrated into the lander as previously planned.

But caution is always necessary, a workaround has been provided in case Perseverance finds itself immobilized. The lander, which should take off in the summer of 2028 and reach Mars in mid-2030, will thus carry on its back (in addition to the mini-rocket and the robotic arm) two small helicopters.

Return to Earth in the best case scenario in 2033

A first helicopter, called the Ingenuity, is already on Mars. Its performance has exceeded all expectations: it has already made 29 flights, instead of the five initially planned. The two new helicopters will be slightly heavier, equipped with wheels so they can also move on the ground, and a small arm that will allow them to retrieve the samples, which can weigh up to 150 grams.

In this case, these would be dropped by Perseverance, recovered by helicopters and deposited at the foot of the lander in a few days. There they would also be picked up by the robotic arm, which can extend up to two meters, to be placed on the mini-rocket.

Once in space, the samples will finally be transferred to an orbiter previously positioned around Mars, which is scheduled to lift off from Earth in 2027. Once the cargo is recovered, this orbiter will return to Earth to land in the Utah desert in 2033.

Perseverance carries a total of 43 tubes. A dozen will soon be deposited on Martian soil to form an emergency stockpile. The other 30 will be destined to be recovered.

Author: HG with AFP
Source: BFM TV

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