Perseverance is Searching for the Perfect Landing Spot for the Upcoming Sample Return Mission

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.

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Japan’s Upcoming Mission Will Use a Vacuum to Get its Sample From Phobos

The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission (courtesy: JAXA/NASA).

JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, is carving out a niche for itself in sample-return missions. Their Hayabusa mission was the first mission to sample an asteroid when it brought dust from the asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Then its successor, Hayabusa 2, brought back a sample from asteroid Ryugu in 2020.

Now JAXA has the Martian moon Phobos in its sights and will send a spacecraft to sample it as soon as 2024. The mission is called Martian Moons eXploration (MMX), and it’ll use a pneumatic vacuum device to collect its samples.

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After Its Last Rock Sample Crumbled Into Powder, Perseverance is Going to try Again

In the last two decades, we have all grown accustomed to rovers exploring Mars. At least one rover has been active on the planet every day since January 4, 2004, when NASA’s Spirit rover landed in Gusev crater. Opportunity (2004) and Curiosity (2012) followed, each making unique journeys of discovery of their own. Perseverance (2021) is the latest and greatest of these robotic explorers, boasting a state-of-the-art in-situ resource utilization experiment to extract oxygen from the atmosphere, an accompanying helicopter to scout the path ahead, and a suite of unparalleled geology instruments. But what really sets Perseverance’s mission apart is that, for the first time, it is collecting samples of Martian rock to bring back to Earth.

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Perseverance Fails to Collect its First Sample

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Over the past few weeks, there was quite a bit of excitement in the air at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where mission controllers were prepping the Perseverance rover to acquire its first sample from the Martian surface. This mission milestone would be the culmination of years of hard work by a team of over 90 dedicated scientists and engineers.

The commands to commence operations to take its first sample (from drill site Roubion) were sent to the rover on Sol 164 (Thurs, Aug. 5th). On the morning of Friday, Aug. 6th, the team gathered to witness the sampling data come in. Everything appeared to be fine until they were notified a few hours later that the sample tube was empty! Since then, the rover’s science and engineering teams have been investigating what could have become of the sample.

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Organic Material Found on an Asteroid Sample Returned by Hayabusa 1

Panspermia is an idea that has been around for a long time.  It was first mentioned in the 5th century BC by Anaxagoras, one of the most prominent pre-Socratic philosophers.  The problem with the theory is that there’s never really been any evidence to back it up.  That lack of evidence has changed dramatically in the last 20 or so years, and recently more data has been added to that dataset.  A team from Royal Holloway, part of the University of London, found organic material and water in a sample of Itokawa, the asteroid the first Hayabusa mission visited over 10 years ago.

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Plans for a Mars Sample Return Mission Have Moved to the Next Stage

Credit: NASA

This past summer, NASA’s Perseverance rover launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On February 18th, 2021, it will arrive on Mars and join in the search for evidence for past (and maybe even present) life. A particularly exciting aspect of this mission is the Mars Sample Return (MSR), a multi-mission effort that will send samples of Mars back to Earth for analysis.

This aspect of the Perseverance mission will be assisted by a lander and orbiter developed by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). According to NASA, the MSR recently advanced to the next stage of development (Phase A). If all goes well, Perseverance will have a companion in the coming years that will take its samples and launch them to orbit, where they will be picked up and sent back to Earth.

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Even the Outside of Hayabusa 2’s Sample Capsule has Asteroid Debris on it

Hayabusa 2 artwork
An artist's conception shows Hayabusa 2's sample return capsule making its atmospheric re-entry as its mothership flies above. (JAXA Illustration)

On December 5th, 2020, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 mission sent a sample capsule home containing debris from the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) 162173 Ryugu. This was the culmination of the probe’s first six years in space, which launched in Dec. 2014 and rendezvoused with Ryugu in June 2018. While the probe sets its sights on its new targets, scientists will be busy analyzing the Ryugu sample.

One thing they noticed immediately after opening the shell on Monday (Dec. 21st) was the black sandy dust that lined the capsule’s outer shell. According to a statement issued by JAXA, the black sand is material taken from the surface of Ryugu. Considering what’s inside sample chamber A, it appears that the amount of material obtained by Hayabusa 2 is more substantial than previously thought.

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Here are NASA’s Science Priorities for the Artemis Missions

View of Moon limb with Earth on the horizon,Mare Smythii Region. Earth rise. This image was taken before separation of the LM and the Command Module during Apollo 11 Mission. Original film magazine was labeled V. Film Type: S0-368 Color taken with a 250mm lens. Approximate photo scale 1:1,300,000. Principal Point Latitude was 3 North by Longitude 85 East. Foward overlap is 90%. Sun angle is High. Approximate Tilt minimum is 65 degrees,maximum is 69. Tilt direction is West (W).

In October of 2024, NASA will send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. After establishing orbit with their Orion spacecraft, a team of two astronauts (“the first woman and the next man”) will land in the Moon’s southern polar region. Over the course of a week, these astronauts will explore and investigate one of the region’s many permanently-shadowed craters.

As the first crewed lunar mission in over fifty years, this mission and those that follow will have a robust series of science objectives. These objectives were laid out in the Artemis III Science Definition Team Report, which was released to the public earlier this month. This report is a summary of the science plan prepared at the behest of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) for the Artemis III mission.

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China’s Chang’e-5 Probe Blasts Off From the Moon, Bringing Back a Full Load of Samples

A camera on China's Chang'e-5 spacecraft captures the moment of ignition for the ascent module, taking off from the lunar surface. (CNSA / CLEP / Zhang Gaoxiang)

For the first time in more than 40 years, a robotic spacecraft has blasted off from the Moon – and for the first time ever, it’s a Chinese spacecraft, carrying precious lunar samples back to Earth.

The ascent vehicle for the Chang’e-5 mission fired its engine and rose a region called Oceanus Procellarum at 1510 UTC (11:10 p.m. Beijing time) on December 3rd, the China National Space Administration’s China Lunar Exploration Project reported.

Imagery sent back from the Moon provided a view of the blastoff from ground zero. It was the first successful lunar launch since the Soviet Luna 24 probe took off during a sample return mission in 1976.

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Watch “Live” as NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Nabs an Asteroid Sample

Today’s the day! The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is going to reach out and boop asteroid Bennu! You can watch the broadcast here as the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission attempts to collect a sample of an asteroid on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 6:12 pm EDT (5:12 pm CDT, 3:12 PDT).

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