Mars samples in an interplanetary heist. You are interested in his plan to collect samples from the Martian surface and bring them back to Earth. And trust us when we say this, that the set of pioneering actions described will ensure that this interplanetary heist will be a science fiction movie.
Engaging multiple spacecraft, rovers, touchdowns, and the first rocket launch from a planet other than ours, the massive international effort will take scientists to Martian rocks in little more than a decade.
If things go as planned, the first step in this hugely ambitious but realistic plan will be in July, when the Perseverance rover will launch. In February of next year, the rover will land in Jezero crater, which is home to the river delta that could contain traces of ancient Martian life. Perseverance will drive for many miles collecting samples from the Martian surface in 30 small geological sampling tubes. The rover will be enabled with a drill and a soil shovel.
For a long time, it had not been clear how these tubes would find their way back to earth. However, the agency’s new plan reveals a pioneering line of work to accomplish just that.
The final plan includes two more spacecraft to be sent to Mars in 2026. The first “Mars Ascent Vehicle” spacecraft, a small spacecraft with a container for samples, will land in the crater. Next, a small rover will arrive in Perseverance and collect the samples. If things go as planned, the rover is slated to be in action during a season free of Martian dust storms and cold winter temperatures.
The samples will then be taken back to the Mars Ascent Vehicle, which will then take off and place the container in Martian orbit. This will mark a historic move as no nation has ever launched a ship from the surface of Mars or any other interplanetary body for that matter.
Under the plan, the second spacecraft will maneuver next to the sample container, pick it up and fly it back to earth. This will be another first, since not once in history have two spacecraft come into contact in the orbit of Mars. The spacecraft will land on Earth at high speed, likely at a training camp in Utah. The planned landing date is expected to be around September 2031.
However, NASA will not accomplish this impossible sound adventure on its own. The work has been divided between NASA and ESA. While NASA works on the Mars Ascent Vehicle and the sample lander, ESA will work on the small vehicle and the return trip to Earth. The two agencies have also asked for scientists interested in studying the results of this ambitious interplanetary mission. “We can learn about Mars in our own labs, it’s going to be fantastic,” says Michael Meyer, the mission’s chief scientist.
ESA recently delayed shipping its first rover to Mars in association with the Russian Space Agency. The delay is due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has also had a major effect on NASA’s work and, consequently, on the mission to Mars. Although the schedule spaced over a decade offers scope for delays, the Mars Perseverance rover is not a company that can afford that luxury. Although Waltzin declined to comment on the expenses, the mission will cost both agencies several billion dollars.