The Mars Sample Return Mission is one of the most ambitious missions ever conceived. Though the samples won’t be returned to Earth until 2033 at the earliest, the Perseverance Rover is busy collecting them right now. Ideally, Perseverance could gather as many samples as we like and ship them all back to Earth. But of course, that’s not possible.
There are limitations, and this means that choosing which samples to return to Earth is an extremely critical task.
On Thursday, March 30th, NASA’s Perseverance rover drilled and stored the first rock core sample of its newest science campaign. This is the sixteenth sample the rover has taken as part of the ambitious Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, a collaborative effort between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to retrieve Perseverance’s samples and bring them back to Earth. Once they arrive (expected to happen by 2033), scientists will analyze them using state-of-the-art machinery too heavy and cumbersome to send to Mars as part of a robotic mission.
Now that the Perseverance rover has dropped off ten regolith and rock sample tubes for a future sample return mission to retrieve, the plans for such a mission are coming together. The mission is a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency, and ESA has agreed to build a 2.5-meter-long robotic arm to pick up tubes and then transfer them to a rocket for the first-ever Mars samples to be brought to Earth.
Perseverance has now dropped 10 sample tubes and to celebrate, it took a couple of selfies with several of the sample tubes visible in the designated ‘sample depot’ it is creating within an area of Jezero Crater. The area of the depot is nicknamed “Three Forks.”
In the not-too-distant future, a planetary scientist will open up a tube of rocks that came from Mars. Thanks to the Perseverance rover, there are at least 17 of these rock and regolith samples, just waiting for analysis on Earth. To get them, the rover has covered about 13 kilometers on its Mars geology field trip.
Even though there’s no firm date for a Mars sample return mission, the Perseverance rover is busy collecting rock samples and caching them for retrieval. We’ve known of the future Mars sample return mission for a while now, and as time goes on, we’re learning more details.
The latest development concerns helicopters. With Ingenuity’s success, NASA has decided that the sample return mission will take two helicopters.
Here’s one of the best views you’ll ever see of the insides of a rock on Mars. The hole was made by the Perseverance rover’s drill, a rotary percussive drill designed to extract rock core samples from the surface of Mars. After the sample was taken, Perseverance rover acquired this image using its SHERLOC WATSON camera to take a close-up view of the hole.
This is such a clear image because image editing expert Kevin Gill used a technique called focus merge to get the best view possible. A “focus merge” uses a series of images taken at different focuses, stacks them up and uses whichever pixels are the sharpest. You can see a larger version on Kevin’s Flickr page.
NASA’s car-sized Perseverance (Percy) Mars rover has been had at work carrying out its science campaign in Jezero Crater on the Red Planet, but it’s equally been busy scouting for sites for NASA’s planned Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, which is a joint mission with the European Space Agency. One of the many tasks for Percy has been to collect sample tubes that MSR will eventually return to Earth for further analysis, having collected its ninth sample on July 6. This most recent sample is especially intriguing as it’s the first taken from the Jezero’s delta itself, which is believed to be one of the most ideal locations to search for past life on the Red Planet.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover is busy exploring Jezero Crater on Mars. Part of its mission is to collect samples for retrieval by a future mission. NASA and the ESA haven’t determined where the sample return mission will land yet.
That depends on the Perseverance mission and how it spends the rest of its time on Mars. But we know of one possible—albeit ambitious—landing spot: just west of Jezero Crater.
Testing is key to the success of any space mission, and the more complex the mission, the more testing is required to complete it successfully. The Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission is one of the most ambitious missions ever undertaken. It started with the Perseverance rover, which is currently exploring Jezero crater while occasionally stopping to fill sample bottles with interesting material. But the more impressive engineering feat is what happens next. NASA plans to launch a combination lander, rover, and ascent rocket that will land on the Martian surface, pick up the sample containers Perseverance has left behind, sterilize them, launch them back into space, and then return them to Earth.