Perseverance Rover explores site for first Mars launch mission

In addition to collecting the first samples from an ancient river delta on the Red Planet, the robotic explorer has explored shallow areas around Jezero Crater that could serve as a landing site for the Mars sample return campaign.

This ambitious initiative, a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency, will rely on multiple missions to retrieve samples collected by Perseverance and return them to Earth over the next decade. These samples will be the first samples from Mars to be returned to Earth.

“I’m a geologist, meteorologist, photographer, etc. Now I can add ‘Location Scout’ to the list. I have identified locations where the Mars Sample Return spacecraft could begin operations – including the first launch pad on another planet,” read a tweet Rover’s Twitter account.

While investigating the site of an ancient lake that existed billions of years ago, Perseverance collects rocks and soil. This material is of interest as it may contain evidence of past microscopic organisms that would reveal whether life ever existed on Mars.

Scientists have the opportunity to use some of the world’s most advanced instruments to study these precious samples.

A path of innovation

The campaign to return Martian samples to Earth will begin in the mid-2020s when a rocket carrying a sample retrieval lander and fetch rover will launch on a mission to Mars.

Once the lander arrives on Mars, it will land near Jezero Crater and release the fetch rover to retrieve samples from areas where Perseverance has hidden them on the Martian surface.

This figure shows a concept for a proposed Sample Retrieval Lander and Mars Ascent Vehicle.

There is also a possibility that Perseverance itself will keep some samples on board and deliver them to the lander.

The fetch rover isn’t the only spacecraft traveling with the lander, however. It will also deliver the Mars Ascent Vehicle – the first rocket ever to be launched from the surface of Mars, with the samples safely stowed inside.

China's Mars probe has photographed the entire Red Planet

In the mid-2020s, a separate mission called the Earth Return Orbiter will launch from Earth to rendezvous with the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

On board the Earth Return Orbiter is the capture/containment and return system that will collect the container of samples from the Mars Ascent Vehicle while both vehicles are in orbit around Mars.

This image shows NASA's Mars Ascent Vehicle orbiting Mars with the samples on board.

The Earth Return Orbiter will then return to our world. Once the spacecraft is close to Earth, it will release the Earth Entry Vehicle containing the cache of samples, and this spacecraft will land on Earth in the early to mid-2030s.

Robotic components for the campaign are currently being tested at NASA and ESA centers.

Looking for a pancake from Mars

To land on and take off from Mars, the sample return mission requires a flat area with a radius of 60 meters (200 feet) with no sand dunes, angled terrain, or rocks larger than 19 centimeters (7.5 inches). Diameter that traps the area. Unobstructed, flat terrain will also make it easier for the fetch rover to retrieve the samples.

Perseverance Rover has found a friend on Mars

“The Perseverance team pulled out all the stops for us because Mars Sample Return has unique needs given where we operate,” said Richard Cook, Mars Sample Return program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California , in a statement .

“Basically, a boring landing pad is good. The flatter and duller the view, the more we like it because while there are a lot of things to do when we arrive to pick up the samples, sightseeing isn’t one of them.”

NASA's Perseverance rover used one of its navigation cameras to capture this image of the flat terrain inside Jezero Crater.  This is a possible location NASA could consider for a Mars Sample Return lander.

The sample return team used the rover’s cameras to survey a flat area they call the “runway.” The area, long and flat like an airport runway, was previously spotted in images from orbiters orbiting the planet. Persistence could capture a better view from the ground.

“We’ve been eyeing these locations since before Perseverance landed, but images from orbit can only tell you so much,” said Al Chen, JPL’s Mars Sample Return Systems Engineering and Integration Manager, in a statement.

“Now we have some close-ups of the runway that suggest we got the bang for the buck. The runway will most likely be on our shortlist of potential landing and cache sites for (Mars Sample Return).”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: