Perseverance rover to build first-of-its-kind Mars storage

Perseverance rover to build first-of-its-kind Mars storage
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The Perseverance rover is about to build its first repository of rock and soil samples on another planet. The creation of the cache site is a step in the complex preparation for the return of the first rocks and dirt from Mars to Earth by 2033.

In a few days, the rover will begin dropping a portion of its sample tubes of chalk-sized rock and sediment cores collected from the surface of Mars into a repository in Jezero Crater, an area nicknamed Three Forks.

Green circles indicate the location of several drop sites for samples on Mars.

The 10 tubes will descend about 2.9 feet (88.4 centimeters) from the rover’s belly and descend over the next 30 days to various level, rock-free areas at Three Forks.

As a precaution, the rover deploys a backup kit and collects pairs of samples from the rocks it excavates.

The Sample Return to Mars programThe project, jointly managed by NASA and the European Space Agency, will attempt to land on Mars, collect samples and return them to Earth over the next ten years.

“The samples for this repository—and the duplicates stored on Perseverance—are an incredible set representative of the area explored during the main mission,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, chief scientist of the Mars Sample Return program.

“Not only do we have igneous and sedimentary rocks that record at least two and possibly four or more distinct hydrous alteration styles, but regolithatmosphere and in the witness tubesaid Wadhwa. director of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Studies, citing samples of volcanic and sedimentary rock, water, surface dust, and even rock that has been altered by the Martian atmosphere.

Perseverance took a photo of the future depot on December 14 at an area nicknamed Three Forks.

Azm collects rocks and soil while investigating the site of an ancient lake that existed billions of years ago. This material may contain evidence of past microscopic organisms that would reveal whether life existed on Mars. Scientists will use the most sophisticated tools to study these precious specimens.

First of all, the plan was to launch a fetch rover, along with the Sample Search Lander, in the mid-2020s. Once launched on the Martian surface, the lander would retrieve samples from where Perseverance had hidden them.

Perseverance will now be the primary vehicle for transporting samples to the lander. A recent evaluation of the rover shows that it should still be in prime condition to deliver samples in 2030. Azm will rely on the lander and the lander’s robotic arm will transfer the samples.

Rather than a retrieval rover, the Sample Retrieval Lander will carry two sample recovery helicopters, similar in style to the Ingenuity helicopter currently on Mars.

Engineers were impressed with Ingenuity’s performance. The helicopter has survived more than a year beyond its expected useful life and is about to complete its 37th flight. If Perseverance fails to return the samples to the lander, small helicopters will fly away from the lander, use weapons to pick up the samples and bring them back.

Perseverance has collected various samples during its journey so far.

“Until now, Mars missions required only one good landing zone; we need 11,” said Richard Cook, manager of the Mars Sample Return program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“The first one is for the Specimen Search Downloader, but then we need 10 more helicopters nearby for our Specimen Recovery Helicopters to take off and land and drive.”

The Mars Sample Return team is also focusing on the sample that Perseverance will use to drop the samples.

This illustration shows a team of robots and spacecraft that will return Martian samples to Earth.

“You can’t just drop them into a big tower because recovery helicopters are designed to interact with only one pipe at a time,” Cook said.

The rover will drop the tubes in a complex zigzag pattern, allowing enough space around each drop zone to ensure helicopters can pick them up if needed.

Perseverance's exploration of the Jezero crater revealed formations such as Betty's Rock.

The Sampler also carries the Mars Ascent Vehicle – the first rocket to be launched from the surface of Mars with samples safely inside. The spacecraft is planned to be launched from Mars in 2031. In the mid-2020s, a separate mission called the Return-to-Earth Orbiter will launch from Earth to rendezvous with the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

Perseverance used a robotic arm camera to capture a detailed picture of Betty's Rock.

On board the Earth Return Orbiter is a system that will collect a container of samples from the Mars Ascent Vehicle while both vehicles are in orbit around the red planet.

Then the Earth Return Orbit will return to our planet. After the spacecraft approaches the Earth, it will release a containing vehicle storage of samples and that spacecraft will land on Earth in 2033.

Perseverance’s primary mission will end on January 6 – nearly two years (and one Martian year) after landing on the red planet. But the rover’s journey is not over yet.

“We’ll still be working on the sample repository deployment when our extended mission launches (Jan. 7), so nothing changes from that point of view,” said Art Thompson, Perseverance project manager at JPL. “However, once the table is set up at Three Forks, we’ll go to the top of the delta. The science team wants to get a good look around there.”

Perseverance will move on to new science operations in the new year, called the Delta Top Campaign. The rover will finish climbing the steep bank of an ancient river delta that emptied into the Jezero crater lake billions of years ago and reach the upper surface of the delta in February.

This map shows Perseverance's planned route over the top of Jezero Crater's delta in 2023.

Over the next eight months, Perseverance will search for river stones and additional material may have carried from Other parts of Mars and deposited in the delta.

“The Delta Top Campaign is our opportunity to take a look at the geologic process beyond the walls of Jezero Crater,” Katie Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Endurance at JPL, said in a statement.

“Billions of years ago, a raging river carried debris and stones from miles away beyond Jezero’s walls. We intend to explore these ancient riverbeds and obtain samples of the rocks and boulders through which they traveled for so long.”

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