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Helicopter bet. NASA has dropped a rover from its plan to return soil samples from Mars

NASA and ESA’s ambitious project to return Martian soil samples to Earth has changed again. Instead of sending a rover to Mars to collect the sampling tubes and deliver them back to the rocket, it was decided to use the services of the old Perseverance helicopter or two as a backup option. Both the Perseverance and Martian Ingenuity helicopters have been shown to be built with a huge margin of safety.

The concept has changed. Image source: NASA

In March of this year, NASA and ESA seriously revised the Mars Sample Return mission program for the first time. It was originally planned that the Perseverance rover on Mars would collect soil samples in a crater lake and eventually drop them on the planet’s surface so that a specially designed test tube collection rover could collect them and return them. rocket

The probe collection rover was supposed to be created by the European Space Agency. In March of this year, NASA and EKA announced that to improve the chances of returning the samples, two separate landings were needed, rather than one as originally planned. Initial calculations indicated that the lander would be too heavy and cumbersome to safely descend on the surface of Mars, with its thin atmosphere, for both the rover and the launcher with a return rocket.

Producing two landers instead of one and sending them to Mars obviously increases the cost of the project and also slightly reduces the chances of success (two landers instead of one also increases the risk of mission failure). The new plan, which NASA and EKA officials announced at a press conference yesterday, involves ditching the rover (and a second lander) to collect samples collected by Perseverance.

According to the new plan, the approval of which may take place about a year after all the necessary calculations, Perseverance itself will deliver the samples to the return rocket. The Curiosity rover, which is based on the design from which Perseverance was built, has demonstrated excellent performance and durability, so NASA believes that in 2030, Perseverance will also continue to operate and be able to deliver sample tubes to the correct location.

If Perseverance fails, the return rocket lander will have two Ingenuity-type Martian helicopters. The latter also showed the highest reliability, having already made 29 flights into the atmosphere of Mars instead of the planned 5. The test tube delivery helicopters will get robotic arms to capture them and wheels on the chassis for precise maneuvering on the Martian surface so they can climb over the test tubes to capture them.

A revision of the plans, proposing the use of two landing platforms, moved the mission’s launch date from 2026 to 2028, which would allow the samples to reach Earth in 2033. The second landing and the refusal of the postman did not change anything about it. . The mission is also focused on a 2028 launch. It should be noted that not NASA and EKA are to blame for this, but objective reality. Mars is not at the right distance from Earth every year to schedule a launch window. .

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