NASA will send two new helicopters to Mars to collect samples

The Ingenuity helicopter, the first controlled and powered aircraft on another world, has been so successful in the skies of Mars that NASA plans to send two more. Far from being a test of technology like the Ingenuity, these new devices will collect and transport samples from the Martian soil. They will be part of the mission Mars Sample Return in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) to bring martian rocks to earthso that they can be thoroughly examined by researchers in their laboratories.

Since landing at Jezero Crater in February 2021, the rover Perseverance has accumulated eleven rock cores enclosed in waterproof titanium tubes. Jezero is an area of ​​great scientific interest, as it may have been covered by the waters of a lake billions of years ago. Its minerals may retain fossilized traces of ancient microscopic life.

NASA initially considered sending another ESA-built rover to collect the samples and return them to a lander. However, the US agency dismissed this idea. Instead of a new rover, it will be the same Perseverance he who carries the samples to the lander, which will be located nearby. A robotic arm built by ESA and integrated into the lander will collect the samples from the rover. Later, a mini-rocket (Mars Ascent Vehicle) will orbit the capsule with the rocks, which will be caught up by the ship that will take them to Earth. They will land in the Utah desert (USA) in 2033.

They will move on the ground

NASA is confident in the ability of Perseverance to be active by then but, as a precaution, the lander, which should take off from Earth in the summer of 2028 and reach Mars in mid-2030, will carry attached, in addition of the mini-rocket and the robotic arm, two small helicopters. The plane will help the rover to transport the samples to the lander.

The two new helicopters are based on the design of the extraordinary Ingenuity, which exceeded all expectations by completing 29 flights and surviving more than a year on Mars. However, these planes will be slightly heavier, equipped with wheels to be able to move on the ground and will have a small arm that will allow them to retrieve the samples, which can weigh up to 150 grams.

In this case, the samples would be dropped by Perseverance on the surface, picked up by helicopters and dropped on the lander within days. There they would also be picked up by the robotic arm, which can extend up to two meters, to be placed in the mini-rocket.

Perseverance has a total of 43 tubes to store samples. He will soon deposit a dozen of them on Martian soil to constitute an emergency stock. The other 30 will be destined for recovery.

Bringing samples from Mars to Earth will allow scientists around the world to examine them using sophisticated instruments too large and complex to send to Mars. This will also allow future generations to study them. The scientific community will be able to test new theories and models as they research, as has been done with samples brought back from the Moon by the Apollo missions.

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