NASA will send more helicopters to Mars and this time they will have wheels

Conceptual image of the equipment that will be used on the Mars sample return mission: Creativity-class helicopter (check out its cute wheels), Perseverance craft, Earth return craft, Sample recovery craft, and Boarding craft.

Conceptual image of the equipment that will be used in the Mars sample return mission: Creativity-class Helicopter (check out its cute wheels), Perseverance Wagon, Earth Return Orbiter, Sample Retrieval Lander, and boarding vehicle.
picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA press conferences are always interesting, but this week’s media event It was really amazing. Instead of using the suggested rover Find samples To collect surface samples left by the rover perseverance From NASA, the space agency intends to send two class-class helicopters credulity To the Jezero Crater on Mars, where they will fly into sample tubes, pick them up and take themn To a landing craft will wait close.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are still in the conceptual design phase of the Mars sample re-sampling program, so changes are expected. But the changes announced at this conference It was too big. Both space agencies have completed a review of their systems requirements for the upcoming mission, removing some items and adding others.

TCompare Homas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, a Mars sample return mission to Webb Space Telescope, describing them as international missions with historical relics. Indeed, returning Martian surface samples to Earth for analysis would be huge, both in terms of the resulting science and the experience we would gain from such an effort. In addition to learning more about the geology of the Red Planet, samples can provide clues to this Ancient Martian life As David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency, told reporters, a return mission will make it possible to determine the absolute age of Martian samples, which is not currently possible. Moreover, this effort Parker added that it would serve as a “preparatory mission” for a manned mission to the Red Planet.

like him Webb, Mars sample return mission It’s too complicated I’ve never tried Nothing like that. Technically, this task is already underway. Perseverance is currently collecting and storing surface samples at Jezero Crater, placing small pieces of rock into small tubes placed on the carousel aboard the rover or dropping onto the surface of Mars. So far, Perseverance has collected and sealed 10 tubes filled with rock samples, and the eleventh tube is in storage. NASA and the European Space Agency decided the best way to collect these tubes and return them safely to Earth.

The recently announced revision of the mission structure is not accurate. still includes Sample Retrieval Landing Unit (Retrieval Unit Model) NASA, which will carry the Mars Ascent Rover (MRAV) The Earth Return Orbiter, which will be equipped with NASA’s capture, containment and return system. Those items remained, but NASA and the European Space Agency canceled plans to send the Fetch Rover fast sample. and the associated landing platform.

La razón del cambio, según Zurbuchen, tiene que ver con el “excelente desempeño” de Perseverance y el otro rover funcional de la NASA en Marte, Curiosity, que ha estado trabajando en Marte durante casi 10 años. El análisis de riesgo de la misión de retorno de muestras “se ha visto afectado por la experiencia del último año”, dijo. La NASA ahora tiene buenas razones para creer que Perseverance seguirá activo a principios de la década de 2030, cuando comience la fase de recolección de la misión. Esto no siempre estuvo claro, explicó Zurbuchen, de ahí la necesidad percibida de un rover de búsqueda de muestras dedicado. Confiar por completo en el Perseverance estaba lejos de ser razonable o realista, dijo. Con esta confianza adicional, y con Perseverance en buen estado, la NASA y la ESA decidieron descartar el rover recogedor de muestras, que ahora presenta a Perseverance como la opción principal para transportar muestras al módulo de aterrizaje de recuperación de muestras de la NASA. Zurbuchen dijo que los planificadores de la NASA “siempre quisieron que Perseverance participara en la parte de recuperación de la misión” y que la estrategia revisada no es un “cambio sustancial” sino “más bien una evolución”.

La NASA y la ESA habían consider Previously, the search and boarding vehicle was launched on two different missiles to reduce the risks, but this would not be necessary, since the roving search vehicle was cancelled.

The European Space Agency is currently developing a sample transfer arm that will remove the tubes from the persistence carousel and gently place them on the MAV (the rocket that will transport samples to the orbiter). Speaking to reporters, Parker said the specimen arm is multi-joint, which measures 2.5 meters When fully expanded, it “was always part of the mission architecture.”

NASA also wants to send two Ingenuity helicopters to serve as a standby emergency, should something go wrong with persistence. So far, the helicopter credulityJeff Gramling, director of the Mars Sample Return Program, explained to the press that, which landed on Mars with perseverance in February 2021, made 24 more flights than originally planned. “This showed us the utility of helicopters on Mars,” he said.

The two helicopters that will be used for the sample return mission will not be a match for the creativity, as they will be a bit heavier and will feature moving wheels instead of feet. Small wheels will allow helicopters to roll The surface of Mars. In addition, each helicopter will have an arm to grab the tubes from the surface. when fullWith sample material, the weight of the tubes will be no more than 150 grams, which should not be a problem for helicopters. NASA officials said helicopters are unlikely to be able to pull samples from tubes located more than 700 meters away. probe.

DrDuring the retrieval phase, the autonomously operating helicopters will fly into the sample tube, land nearby, slide to pick it up, and then return to the sample landing unit. After placing the tube nearby, the European Space Agency’s robotic arm will pick it up and put it on board. This will be done systematically until all sample caches have been collected.

Gramling and his colleagues did not say whether the new plans would reduce the overall costs of the mission, but as Zurbuchen admitted, the mission, now without The recovery vehicle and second landing vehicle are “simpler” and “less organizationally complex”. Estimates Previous reports indicated that the project could cost more than $4,400 Millions of dollars.

The current plan is to launch an Earth Return Orbiter in 2027 and a Sample Retrieval Lander in 2030. Under this plan, samples should reach Earth in 2033. The program should enter the initial 12-month design phase in October.

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