As well as collecting the first samples from an ancient river delta on the Red Planet, the robotic rover explored flat areas around Jezero Crater that could serve as a landing site for the Mars sample return campaign.

This ambitious initiative, a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency, will rely on multiple missions to bring the samples collected by Perseverance and back to Earth over the next decade. These samples will be the first samples from Mars returned to Earth.

“I am a geologist, meteorologist, photographer, etc. I can now add a “place explorer” to the list. I have been looking for places where a spacecraft returning from Mars can conduct operations – including the first launch pad on another planet,” read a tweet from Rover’s Twitter account.

As Perseverance searches for the site of an ancient lake that has existed for billions of years, he collects rocks and dirt. This material is important because it could contain evidence of past microorganisms that would reveal whether life existed on Mars.

Scientists will have the opportunity to use some of the most advanced tools in the world to study these precious specimens.

The path of innovation

The Mars-to-Earth sample return campaign will begin in mid-2020, when a rocket will be launched for a mission to Mars carrying a sample lander to retrieve samples and recover the rover.

Once the probe reaches Mars, it will land near Jezero Crater and launch the rover to retrieve samples from areas where Perseverance has hidden it on Mars.

It’s also possible that Perseverance itself could keep some samples on board and deliver them to the probe.

However, the Fetch isn’t the only spacecraft heading for the probe. It will also deliver the Mars Ascent Rover – the first rocket ever launched from the surface of Mars, with samples placed safely inside.

China's Mars probe captured the entire Red Planet

A separate mission will launch from Earth in mid-2020, called the Earth Return Orbiter, to meet the Mars Ascent Rover.

On board the Earth Return Orbiter is a capture/containment and return system, which will collect a sample container from the Mars Ascent Rover while the two vehicles are in orbit around Mars.

This illustration shows NASA's Mars Ascent Rover orbiting Mars with the samples on board.

After that, the return probe from Earth will return to our world. Once the spacecraft approaches Earth, it will launch an Earth Entry Vehicle containing a cache of samples, and this spacecraft will land on Earth in the early to mid-2030s.

The robotic components of the campaign are currently being tested at NASA and European Space Agency centers.

Finding Mars Pie

To land and take off from Mars, a typical return mission needs a flat surface with a radius of 200 feet (60 meters) free of sand dunes, sloping terrain or rocks higher than 7.5 inches (19 cm) in diameter to disturb the region. The flat, open terrain also makes it easy for the rover to fetch samples.

The persevering craft made a friend on Mars

“The Perseverance team has gone all out for us, as Mars sample return has unique needs for where we work,” said Richard Cook, sample return program manager. of Mars at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement. statement. .

“Basically, a boring landing spot is a good thing. The flatter and more uninspiring the landscape the better because while there is plenty to do when we arrive to collect samples, tourism is not one of them.”

NASA's Perseverance spacecraft used one of its navigational cameras to capture this image of Jezero Crater's flat terrain.  This is a potential location NASA could consider for a Mars sample return rover.

The sample return team used the rover’s cameras to monitor a flat area they call the “landing bar.” The long, flat area like an airport runway, already seen in images taken by orbiters orbiting the planet. Perseverance is able to capture a better view of the earth.

“We’ve been looking at these sites since before Perseverance landed, but images from orbit can tell you a lot,” Al Chin, director of Mars Sample Return Systems and Integration Systems Engineering, said in a statement.

“We now have close and personal shots of the airstrip that suggest we were right. The airstrip is likely to be our shortlist of potential landing and hiding locations for (the return of the Mars sample).”

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