Martian’s success reshapes sample return program

As long as humans have been sending probes to Mars, people have hoped to send rock, soil and atmospheric samples back to Earth for more detailed analysis. But the physics of such a mission are particularly demanding—with our current technology, a vehicle that could land on the surface of Mars, collect a sample, and then launch itself back into orbit back to Earth would be huge and prohibitively expensive.

Mars sample return tube

Instead, NASA and its international partners have struggled to distribute the cost and complexity of the mission among several different vehicles. In fact, the first phase of the plan is underway.

This will Since landing on the Red Planet in February 2021, the rover has been collecting samples and storing them in 15-centimeter (6-inch) titanium tubes. Considerable progress has also been made with the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), which will carry samples from the Earth’s surface from Mars and into orbit around Earth, where they will eventually be picked up by another vehicle that will eventually return them to Earth.

But there is still a big gap in the overall plan. Chief among them is how to transfer the samples into the MAV.Previously, the European Space Agency (ESA) will provide a small “extraction rover” to collect will and take them to the MAV launch site.

But in a recent press release, NASA announced that those plans have changed significantly, thanks at least in part to the incredible success of the agency’s current Mars mission.

reliable wanderer

Initially, the NASA-built Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) will bring the MAV and ESA rovers to the surface in one go. But in 2020, the Independent Review Board has raised concerns about the size and quality of the vehicle, particularly that it requires the development of a new and therefore untested entry, descent and landing (EDL) system.They believe that MAV and ESA rovers should use the curiosity and will wanderer.

Instead, NASA and ESA have agreed to simply remove the rover entirely and have will Deliver the sample to the SRL itself.Based on long life curiositywhich has now been on the surface of Mars for ten years, is very likely will When the SRL is expected to arrive, it will still be operational in 2031.

The robotic arm of the test sample retrieval lander.

From an outsider’s perspective, this seems like it should have been the plan from the start. After all, if the samples are already on a functioning rover, why would a second rover be needed to retrieve them? But keep in mind that when this plan was originally designed, curiosity and its twin will Haven’t proven myself yet.Having a smaller, simpler ESA acquisition rover is seen as a reasonable precaution, so even in will itself has failed or is in trouble.

But there are some problems.on the robotic arm will The person handling the sample tubes lacked the necessary dexterity to actually load them into the MAV. The best it can do is place them on a surface close enough to the SRL that its ESA-developed 2.5-meter (8.2-foot) sample transfer arm can pick them up and store them. This won’t be the most fascinating handover in the history of interplanetary exploration, but to keep things simple, there is something to be said.

Helicopter Backup

Although the new plan utilizes will As the primary means of sample transport, the success of the overall mission is too important to incorporate some redundancy into the plan.So, to replace the second rover, NASA decided to take a bold approach that would have been considered science fiction a few years ago: should will Unable to reach the SRL for some reason, a pair of helicopters derived from a wildly successful design originality will try to retrieve them.

helicopter based originality Provide contingency plans.

Little information has been released about how these new helicopters differ from their predecessors, except that they will now be fitted with wheels at the end of the landing legs and a tiny robotic arm capable of capturing individual sample tubes. The addition of wheels means the helicopters don’t need to land directly on the pipes, they just need to get close enough to them to roll. After picking up the sample tube from the ground, the helicopter will fly it back and drop it down by the SRL.

although originality Far beyond all expectations in terms of performance and longevity, the proposed modifications to the aircraft and this ambitious new mission presented new challenges and risks. Sending two helicopters provides another layer of redundancy, and it’s likely that the second helicopter won’t even be activated until the first helicopter demonstrates its ability to retrieve samples, providing mission controllers of value if something goes wrong.” redo”.

Of course it should will Without any help to accomplish its mission, you can be sure that NASA will have some scientifically valuable missions that the pair of helicopters can set themselves.After all, you don’t carry hardware a hundred million miles to go no use it.

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