Preparations for retrieving the Mars sample progressed to the second stage
Samples collected by a Perseverance ATV traveling to Mars could reach Earth in the 2030s. Nasa has decided with ESA to start preparations for the sampling operation.
The decision is based on the report of an independent evaluation team published in November. The evaluators considered the operation possible, but the timetable unrealistic in relation to the budget.
“Bringing samples from Mars to Earth has been a goal for planetary scientists since the early days of spacetime, and making this decision is an important step in making the goal a reality,” says Thomas Zurbuchen of Nasa.
In practice, Nasa now allowed its personnel to proceed to Phase A of the sampling operation, which means that the concept and technologies are developed and the details of the targets are locked.
If all goes according to plan, then perhaps in a year’s time we can proceed to phase B, where a preliminary structural plan for the sonar flight will be made. The final plan is then honed in C and built, assembled, tested, and launched in D.
The Perseverance ATV comes with 43 sample tubes into which it can collect about 15 grams of drilling samples from the most interesting places. The ATV then leaves the capsule collection in an easy to find and approach place.
A sampling flight that later lands in the same area can send a small ATV to pick up the samples and take them to the return rocket. The rocket lifts the samples into the orbit of Mars, from where they are picked up on a return sonar.
The exact target timetable is not yet given. According to preliminary plans, the sampling probe could be launched at the earliest in 2026. This would allow samples to reach Earth by the end of 2031.
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