NASA's shocking new plans to fly helicopters to Mars in 2027 as historic $5.3 billion mission changes course

NASA’s shocking new plans to fly helicopters to Mars in 2027 as historic $5.3 billion mission changes course

NASA is sending two helicopters to Mars — but no new rover — as part of a historic round trip from Earth to Mars and back to collect rock samples.

In the 17 months since it landed on Mars, the Perseverance rover has collected 11 scientifically compelling rock core samples and one atmospheric sample.

Back on Earth, they will help scientists create a geological record crucial to understanding the environmental evolution of Mars and possibly its prebiotic chemistry and biology.

In short, it can reveal traces of ancient life.

Fueled by the incredible success of its small Ingenuity drone, which has now completed an astounding 29 flights, NASA announced today that it will begin its highly anticipated Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission in 2027 with the first-ever rock samples from an alien planet will return to Earth in 2033.

NASA announced that it will launch an Earth Return Orbiter in the fall of 2027 and a Sample Retrieval Lander in the summer of 2028, and that those samples would return to Earth in 2033.

The new mission architecture reveals some exciting design changes.

The Sample Retrieval Lander platform will carry two “Sample Recovery Helicopters” that will help Perseverance collect the samples that the rover itself has been assiduously assembling.

By then, Perseverance will have been on the surface of Mars for almost a decade. The old plan had been to send in a brand new Rover.

Also on the Sample Retrieval Lander platform will be a small rocket called the Mars Ascent Vehicle. The new plan has Perseverance returning to the platform and placing sealed sample tubes in a container in the rocket’s nose cone. A sample transfer arm built by the European Space Agency (ESA) will be used for this purpose.

The Mars Ascent Vehicle will then launch to meet the Earth Return Orbiter high above the Martian surface.

The Earth Return Orbiter would be the first spacecraft ever to fly from Earth to Mars – or any other planet – and then back to Earth.

The use of Perseverance and two new helicopters for this mission is a major change in NASA plans.

“In the conception phase, every facet of a mission plan is examined,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “There are some significant and beneficial changes to the plan that are directly attributable to Perseverance’s recent successes at Jezero and the amazing performance of our Mars helicopter.”

The mission, which will collect samples scattered over Jezero Crater by NASA’s Perseverance rover, was recently given the go-ahead by the Decadal Survey.

In its report, it recommended that the MSR be “the highest scientific priority of NASA’s robotic exploration efforts this decade” and “of fundamental strategic importance to NASA, US leadership in planetary science, and international cooperation.”

However, that report also states that MSR shouldn’t cost more than 20% more than the $5.3 billion budgeted for it. This new plan – which reduces the need for a brand new rover – could help keep costs as low as possible, but it requires a lot of faith in Perseverance’s longevity.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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