Mars sample return concept illustration


This illustration shows a concept for multiple robots that would team up to transport rock and soil samples collected from the Martian surface by NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover back to Earth.

NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency) are developing concepts for the Mars Sample Return program, designed to retrieve rock and soil samples that Perseverance has collected and stored in sealed tubes. In the future, the samples would be sent back to Earth for detailed laboratory analysis.

The current concept envisions delivering a lander to Mars near Jezero Crater, where Perseverance (far left) is collecting samples. A NASA-provided sample retrieval lander (far right) would carry a NASA rocket (the Mars Ascent Vehicle). Perseverance would gather sample tubes it has cached on the surface of Mars and transport them to the sample retrieval lander, where they would then be transferred by an ESA-provided sample transfer arm on the Mars Ascension Vehicle. The arm is based on a human arm, with an elbow, shoulder, and wrist. The Mars Ascent Vehicle would launch a container with the sample tubes inside into orbit. An ESA-provided Earth-return obiter would wait in Mars orbit, which would encounter and capture the orbiting sample container using a NASA-provided capture, containment, and return system. This system would capture and orient the container, then prepare it for return to Earth inside the Earth Entry System.

Also pictured is one of two sample retrieval helicopters that NASA will develop to be transported to Mars on the sample retrieval lander, much like the Ingenuity helicopter was carried on the Perseverance rover. The helicopters would serve as reinforcements for Perseverance in transporting the sample tubes to the Lander.

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