This Monday (1), the scientific team of the Perseverance mission revealed that the NASA rover had collected its 11th rock sample on Mars, which could contain clues to the past and the possible existence of life at a point in the history of the red planet. . .
“Exciting news: Not only did I recently catch a new rock core (#11), but plans are coming to fruition to bring these samples to Earth. A new group of robots (including next-gen helicopters!) could join me for unprecedented teamwork.
Last week, NASA announced it had revamped the Mars sample-return mission, making Perseverance the flagship sample-taking rover and scrapping previous plans to use a Mars research vehicle. European Space Agency (ESA). In support of the campaign, called Mars Sample Return (MSR), two new helicopters can be used, like the autonomous drone Ingenuity, mission companion.
Under the new mission configuration, the Perseverance rover, which is expected to still be active when an MSR lander arrives at the Red Planet in 2031, will be tasked with delivering the samples to an ascent vehicle. The two mini helicopters will therefore be backup options.
Similarities to the Ingenuity helicopter are limited to size and weight, but there are key differences, according to NASA MSR manager Richard Cook. “There will be landing legs that will include, at the bottom, mobility wheels,” he explained, saying that this new capability will allow flying vehicles to “cross the surface.” A mini robotic arm on each of the spacecraft will allow them to pick up the sample tubes that the Perseverance rover will eventually leave behind.
If helicopters are needed for this work, they will land near a sample tube, taxi to pick it up, and fly to a point near the Mars ascent vehicle. Samples will be collected by the newly announced robotic transfer arm, built by ESA.
According to the website space.com, the decision to reconfigure the mission indicates that no European rover will land on Mars in the near future. The new concept could also allow NASA and ESA to undertake the ambitious sample return effort with less cost and hassle.
“The engineer in me was fascinated by the sample rover because it was designed to move much faster than previous Mars rovers, probably about four or five times faster on the surface,” said David Parker, director of the human exploration and robotics from ESA. . Adding the rover, however, would involve a second launch, second lander, etc., so removing the hardware from the program makes a lot of sense.
However, that doesn’t mean the ESA has abandoned plans to land its own rover on Mars as soon as possible. The agency still intends to field the life-hunting robot Rosalind Franklin.
This rover was to be launched this year on a Russian rocket, but the plans had to be abandoned after Russia invaded Ukraine. “The engineering team has been working at high speed to find an alternative approach to delivering the Rosalind Franklin rover to Mars,” Parker said of the situation, noting that different options are being discussed. “In November, a special meeting of the European Council will allow member states to decide on the best way forward. »
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