Illustration of multiple robots on Mars

NASA Plans Roundtrip Mission to Mars to Bring Soil Samples to Earth

July 28, 2022
The plan involves new spacecraft and rovers, as well as partnering with the European space agency.

NASA engineers and scientists have evaluated and refined the system requirements for its Mars Sample Return Program, which will take samples collected from Mar’s Jezero Crater by the Perseverance rover to Earth. The plan includes contributions from the European Space Agency, which should make the mission simpler and more likely to succeed.

“There have been some significant and advantageous changes to the plan, which can be directly attributed to Perseverance’s recent successes at Jezero and the amazing performance of our Mars helicopter,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA administrator.


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For example, based on a recent analysis of the Perseverance rover’s expected longevity, it will carry samples to NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander. The Lander will arrive on the surface of Mars with the Mars Ascent Vehicle and ESA’s Sample Transfer Arm onboard. This eliminate the need for what were called the Sample Fetch Rover and its lander.

The Lander will also carry two sample-recovery helicopters, each based on the design of the Ingenuity helicopter. Ingenuity has proven itself by completing 29 flights over Mars, 24 more than were planned, and surviving over a year past its planned lifetime. The helicopters’ mission is to provide a backup retrieval capability, picking up and moving the soil samples if needed.

With launch dates for the Earth Return Orbiter and Sample Retrieval Lander planned for fall 2027 and summer 2028, respectively, the samples are expected to arrive on Earth in 2033.

The first step in the Mars Sample Return Campaign is already in progress. Since it landed at Jezero Crater early last year, the Perseverance rover has collected 11 scientifically interesting rock core samples and an atmospheric sample.

Bringing Mars samples to Earth will let scientists and future scientists across the world examine them using instruments too large and complex to send to Mars. And the NASA and ESA partnership will fulfill a solar-system exploration goal, a high priority since the 1970s and in the last three National Academy of Sciences Planetary Science Decadal Surveys.

Learn more about the Mars Sample Return Program here.

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