The US space agency has announced plans to send two more helicopters to Mars.
After NASA’s first helicopter successfully collected 11 samples of Martian surface, the US space agency is planning to send two more as part of its Mars Sample Return Program. Amazingly, these Mars helicopters will bring Mars rocks and dust back to Earth. As per the details shared by NASA, the helicopters’ design will be based on the Ingenuity helicopters. Since landing at Mars in February last year, Ingenuity, attached to the Perseverance rover, has vastly exceeded expectations. NASA is conducting this Mars mission in collaboration with the European Space Agency. NASA shared that both the helicopters will possess the ability to grab and transport small tubes filled with bits of Martian rock just like an extraterrestrial drone.
The Martian rocks will be used for examination by scientists using state-of-the-art laboratory equipment on Earth that cannot fit into a spacecraft. NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has already completed 29 flights to Mars and has survived more than a year beyond its lifetime.
NASA, sharing the brief of the plan on how Perseverance will be used to transfer the rocks to a spacecraft for the return journey wrote, “We’re bringing a piece of Mars back to Earth.” They further shared that Perseverance rover is currently rolling through Jezero Crater, and picking up samples from the Red Planet that would be lifted off in the Mars Ascent Vehicle and hitch a ride back home in the European Space Agency’s Earth Return Orbiter.
If the mission is completed successfully, Martian rocks will be the first scientific samples to have ever been brought back from another planet. “We have confidence that we can count on Perseverance to bring the samples back, and we’ve added the helicopters as a backup means,” stated Jeff Gramling, director of NASA’s Mars sample return program.
The Earth Return Orbiter and Sample Retrieval Lander are scheduled to launch in fall 2027 and summer 2028, with samples expected to return on Earth in 2033.