NASA and ESA have a bold new scenario for returning a sample to Mars!

New scenario for the Mars sample return mission developed by the European Space Agency and NASA. The two agencies presented yesterday a new mission architecture to reduce its complexity, and what changes the scenario of operations on Mars. The return date of the Martian samples has not changed, in 2033.

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[EN VIDÉO] An inflatable Mars sample catcher
To recover a container of samples freshly taken from the Red Planet in Mars orbit, Thales Alenia Space designed this inflatable gripper. We can see it here opening (the movement is accelerated ten times) then closing the container (the ball) and locking it. This device can also be used to capture space debris. © Thales Alenia Space

Since arriving at Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, the Endurance rover collected eleven samples of carrots of rock and a sample of the atmosphere. While the rover on in continues to collect it, on Earth, the mission to bring them back to Earth continues.

Yesterday, NASA and ESA announced a new mission architecture and a new Mars scenario for returning these samples. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the US Space Agency’s Science Missions Directorate, said that ” Significant and beneficial changes have been made to the program, which can be directly attributed to the recent successes of Jezero Endurance and the outstanding performance of [l’] martian helicopter “.

Concretely, NASA wants to use ENDURANCE to bring samples to MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle), the rocket which will be used to send them to Mars orbit. The Fetch rover of the European Space Agency, built by Airbus, which was to take the samples and bring them to the MAV was therefore abandoned, as was the lander that would take them to Mars. Relying on the Perseverance rover alone to transport samples is therefore a huge technological gamble.

Two helicopters in support of Endurance

The most surprising announcement was NASA’s decision to use two helicopters for this mission! Their design is inspired bywisely who made 29 trips to Mars and survived more than a year beyond his duration originally planned life. NASA did not detail the role and mode of operation of these two flying machines, explaining only that they will be used as a backup to recover samples if Perseverance cannot deliver them to the MAV. It’s still a mission robotics too complicated to implement.

The platform that will carry the MAV and the two helicopters, the Sample Retrieval Lander, equipping the robotic arm provided by the European Space Agency for the recovery and transfer of samples in the container and inside the MAV. This arm also has a backup function. If Perseverance and the two helicopters are unable to carry samples to the MAV, this European arm will be able to carry out an aid collection.

The launch dates of capture and return the satellite to Earthprovided by the European Space Agency and the Sample Retrieval Landergiven for each of theFALL 2027 and summer 2028. The samples are expected to arrive on Earth in 2033, two years after those from MSR Chinese mission.

Bringing samples from Mars back to Earth will allow scientists around the world to examine the specimens using sophisticated instruments that are too large and complex to send to Mars. More importantly, it will allow future generations to study them at more or less regular intervals as analytical techniques improve, as is done in lunar samples from the Apollo missions.

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