Mars Sample Return mission: changes shape, but not target, and two drones will arrive

Mars Sample Return mission: changes shape, but not target, and two drones will arrive

Yesterday, July 27, 2022, NASA presented to the world a structural modification of Mars Sample Return, the purpose of which is to take from Mars samples of rock, dust and atmosphere that are collected by Perseverance and then return them to Earth.

In fact, the main change made to the MSR structure is the elimination of the second level, which was to collect samples and deliver them to the landing platform. Instead, the operation would be performed by Perseverance with the support of two ingenuity drones.

These changes are mainly related to the high performance achieved by the two machines on Mars, which have created conditions for the success of the mission in the new version. In fact, Perseverance will have to serve a few more years, at least until 2030, while the two drones will have to be developed from scratch based on Ingenuity; they will also be equipped with small wheels and robotic hands; thus, they will be able to land near, approach, collect and fly back to the Lander.

From a chronological point of view, everything hasn't changed so much.

In summary, the components of the Mars Sample Return mission are currently:

  • Perseverance: Collects samples and delivers them on Sample Retrieval Lander

During the press conference, NASA was asked about the reason for the change and whether it was part of the new Mars sample-mining mission announced by China, which, according to the mission ' s leaders, would save the overall cost of the mission and reduce risks; however, they reiterated that all changes were driven by scientific objectives rather than international competition.

With this change, the mission ' s conceptual design phase, called phase A, is being completed. The second phase, the pre-engineering phase, is due to begin in October 2022. This will last 12 months and lead to the development of the first prototypes. In addition, a new ESA ministerial meeting will be held at the end of November, at which representatives of member countries of the European Space Agency will meet.

On this occasion, the European contribution to the MSR mission will be confirmed, which now does not include the Fetch Marsier, the main component excluded from the new version of the mission. It was to be built by Airbus in England. In November, the fate of the Russian-European Marshoe Rosalind Franklin, who was to travel to Mars at the end of 2022, will also be discussed before cooperation with Russia is cancelled.

During the conference on the Mars Sample Return mission, NASA confirmed discussions with Europe on new cooperation for the delivery of the ExoMars Mars ship to Mars, but the updates will be linked to the decisions taken at the ESA ministerial meeting in November.