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NASA Testing Components for Mars Sample Return Program

Mars mission preparations

NASA Testing Components for Mars Sample Return Program

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has started testing robots that would gather rock and sediment samples from Mars and deliver them back to Earth.

Tests are being performed on the lander and rocket that will be used for the Mars Sample Return campaign. Specifically, scientists and engineers from JPL are fine-tuning the components to allow them to endure Martian conditions. The Mars Sample Return program consists of a rover that will gather sample tubes from the Perseverance rover, a lander that will store the samples and a rocket that would take the sediments back to Earth, JPL said.

JPL mechanical engineer Pavlina Karafillis and her team have been test-dropping a prototype lander to simulate different landing conditions. She said conditions on Mars change all the time, and the surface itself may be unpredictable.

The Sample Retrieval Lander will not have a rocket-powered jet pack to help it land, but it will have retrorockets to slow its descent. The lander weighs almost twice as heavy as the jet pack-aided Perseverance rover.

Engineers are also testing the Mars Ascent Vehicle rocket to ensure that it would operate in the Martian atmosphere. Gravity in Mars is a third of the Earth’s, making operations more challenging. The testing method for the vehicle involves tossing it into the air before igniting the rocket. Testers have performed 23 tests throughout 2021 and have changed the vehicle’s center of gravity and mass to find the best fit. They also included springs to see how much actuation the rocket will have with the lander attached.

The Mars Sample Return campaign kicked off when the Perseverance rover landed in February. Perseverance gathered four sample tubes of rock cores and one tube of Martian atmosphere.

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Category: Space