Technology

NASA plans to send two helicopters to Mars to collect samples –

The Ingenuity helicopter proved so successful on Mars that it prompted NASA to rethink its future mission to the red planet. The space agency has announced that a duo of Ingenuity-inspired rotorcraft will play a key role in a mission to bring Martian rock samples taken from Jezero Crater back to Earth. Initially, the rover was supposed to participate in the project to return samples from Mars, but this would require its own lander. The decision to use helicopters was based on the unexpected performance and reliability demonstrated by Ingenuity. It is still operational on Mars, although its original mission was due to end in August 2021 after five test flights. To date, the aircraft has made 29 flights.

“The design phase is when all aspects of the mission plan are carefully considered,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for Science. “Significant and useful changes have been made to the plan, which can be directly attributed to the recent successes of Perseverance in Jezero and the amazing performance of our Martian helicopter. »

Perseverance is like a rolling geologist. He takes small samples of Martian rocks and stores them in test tubes. The mission to return these samples, or Mars Sample Return (MSR), is a complex and ambitious project. It will consist of landing on Mars, retrieving the tubes, and sending them via a small launcher to a spacecraft in orbit, which will then travel to Earth. NASA is working on this program with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Return of Martian samples expected in 2033

NASA expects Perseverance to still be operational when the sample return mission arrives. The idea was for the rover to deliver the samples to a sample retrieval lander, which would use a robotic arm (developed by ESA) to pick them up for transport. Engineers have developed a backup plan, according to which, if necessary, samples will be taken by helicopters.

These helicopters will have some design differences from the Ingenuity. In particular, they will be equipped with wheels that will allow them to move on the ground to get closer to the pipes.

Once the mission concepts are refined, the project will move into the preliminary design phase beginning in October. This phase will last one year and will include technological developments and prototyping.

The success of this mission could mean a huge leap in our understanding of Mars, especially with regard to the pressing question of whether the planet has ever had microbial life. If all goes as expected, these Martian rocks could return to Earth in 2033.

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CNET.com article adapted by CNETFrance

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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