NASA commissions Lockheed Martin to return samples from Mars

Lockheed Martin Space will build the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) , a small, lightweight rocket to launch rocks, sediment and atmospheric samples from the surface of Mars.


NASA has awarded  the space division of the giant Lockheed Martin  the construction of the Mars Ascent Vehicle ( MAV ), a small rocket to bring samples from the surface of the Red Planet.

Poised to become the first rocket fired from another planet, the MAV is a crucial part of a campaign to retrieve samples collected by NASA ‘s Perseverance rover and send them back to Earth for advanced study . NASA ‘s Sample Recovery Lander , another major part of the campaign, would carry the MAV to the surface of Mars, landing near or in Jezero Crater to collect the samples stored by Perseverance. The samples would be returned to the lander, which would serve as the launch pad for the MAV . With the sample container secured, theMAV would launch.

Once it reaches Mars orbit, the container would be captured by an ESA (European Space Agency) Earth Return Orbiter spacecraft equipped with NASA ‘s Capture, Containment and Return System payload . The spacecraft would safely return the samples to Earth in the early to mid-2030s .

“Committing to the Mars Ascent Vehicle represents an early and concrete step in defining the details of this ambitious project not only to land on Mars, but also to take off,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at Mars headquarters, said in a statement. NASA in Washington. “We are nearing the end of the conceptual phase of 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 with state-of-the-art tools too. ” complex to transport them into space”.

A huge challenge

Returning a sample is complicated and MAV faces some complex development challenges. It must be robust enough to withstand the harsh environment of Mars and adaptable enough to work with multiple spacecraft. It must also be small enough to fit inside the sample recovery lander. The Sample Recovery Lander is scheduled to launch no earlier than 2026 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Lockheed Martin Space will provide multiple MAV test units and a flight unit. Work under the contract includes the design, development, test and evaluation of the integrated MAV system, and the design and development of the rocket’s ground support equipment.

The cost-plus-fixed-fee Mars Ascent Vehicle Integrated System (MAVIS) contract has a potential value of $194 million. The execution period begins no later than February 25 and will last for six years.

NASA ‘s Mars Sample Return Campaign promises to revolutionize understanding of Mars by bringing scientifically selected samples for study using the most sophisticated instruments from around the world.

This strategic partnership of NASA and ESA would be the first mission to return samples from another planet and the first launch from the surface of another planet. Samples collected by Perseverance during its exploration of an ancient river delta are thought to present the best chance to reveal the early evolution of Mars, including the potential for life.