NASA continues to work on an innovative project that will be the first to launch a rocket from the surface of another planet to send samples back to Earth from Mars.
The unique endeavor includes NASA’s Perseverance Rover, already active on Mars, along with a new Lockheed Martin-designed Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and NASA Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) working together to return the materials from the Red Planet.
“The MAV, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin Space of Littleton, Colorado, will be packaged with NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL), another big part of the sample return campaign,” according to a Wednesday report from Space.com.
“The two-in-one spacecraft — MAV and SRL — will touch down near or in Jezero Crater, the spot where NASA’s Perseverance rover is already busily gathering Mars samples. A second lander, carrying a European Space Agency (ESA) ‘fetch rover,’ will touch down in the same area as well,” it added.
The project will include the samples from the Perseverance Rover being loaded onto the MAV and launched for their return to Earth. If successful, the samples will land in the Utah desert in 2033.
The Lockheed Martin MAV system includes a six-year contract of $194 million, according to the report. The project is expected to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2028.
The MAV measures under 10 feet in height and just 1.5 feet in diameter. The rocket is designed to include approximately 30 sample tubes from Mars that will be transported at up to 8,950 miles per hour.
Steve Sides, Lockheed Martin’s senior program manager for the Mars Ascent Vehicle Integrated System (MAVIS), revealed some of the complexity and potential impact of the project.
“We’ve never launched a rocket from Mars, so there’s a lot of technology involved here,” Sides said. “But we’re also going to get a lot of science from those Mars samples.”
NASA also noted the importance of the MAV project in a February announcement regarding the project with Lockheed Martin Space.
“This groundbreaking endeavor is destined to inspire the world when the first robotic round-trip mission retrieves a sample from another planet – a significant step that will ultimately help send the first astronauts to Mars,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “America’s investment in our Mars Sample Return program will fulfill a top priority planetary science goal and demonstrate our commitment to global partnerships, ensuring NASA remains a leader in exploration and discovery.”
Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, also communicated the importance of the new Mars effort.
“Committing to the Mars Ascent Vehicle represents an early and concrete step to hammer out the details of this ambitious project not just to land on Mars, but to take off from it,” Zurbuchen said. “We are nearing the end of the conceptual phase for this Mars Sample Return mission, and the pieces are coming together to bring home the first samples from another planet. Once on Earth, they can be studied by state-of-the-art tools too complex to transport into space.”