From NASA Perseverance rover is equipped with the most advanced science laboratory ever installed on another planet, which will allow it to analyze in depth all the rocks and soil it unearths. However, NASA also has something even more ambitious in mind: bringing Perseverance samples back to Earth via the Sample return mission to Mars. Today, NASA and its partner the European Space Agency (ESA) have taken an important step in this mission, attribute the MAPS (Mars Ascent Propulsion System) contract with Northrop Grumman Systems.
Now that Perseverance has landed in Jezero Crater, he will spend the next two years looking for signs of life in the area. If it finds interesting rocks or dirt, it will cache them in “hyper-sterile” containers that are not contaminated with terrestrial organic matter. These will then be placed in tubes and stored inside the body of the rover.
The return to Mars mission involves sending two spaceships to Mars. We’re going to land on the planet, meet the rover and take the samples, then take off and orbit around Mars (the “take off” part is where the MAPS contract comes into play). The second spacecraft will encounter this craft in orbit of Mars and bring the samples back to Earth.
The original plan was to launch the sample return vessel in 2026, land it in 2028, and return samples from Mars to Earth by 2031. These dates are still pending, however, after independent advice advised allowing more time (and cost) for the mission.
Northrop Grumman’s contract is worth up to $ 84.5 million, which is only a small portion of the current estimated mission budget of $ 3.3 billion. NASA regrets that it covers “support and products” for the MAPS ascension propulsion mission and “brings NASA and ESA closer to achieving the Mars sample return.” However, given the complexity of the project and the fact that it has never been tried, don’t be surprised if these dates and budgets are pushed.