Wednesday, December 07, 2022

NASA to launch 2 more helicopters to Mars to help get back to Earth

NASA to launch 2 more helicopters to Mars to help get back to Earth

NASA said Wednesday that it will send two more helicopters to Mars in the coming years, as its first, Ingenuity, was more successful than scientists expected.

The space agency has unveiled new plans to collect and return samples of Martian rock that NASA’s historic Persistence rover has used as part of a renewed search for alien life since its historic Perseverance rover landed on the Red Planet last year. collecting.

In the new plan, the rover will continue collecting samples from Mars’ Jezero Crater (it has already collected 11) and eventually transport them to a lander where they will be loaded onto the return rocket. That rocket will blast off into orbit around Mars where it will be collected by the European Space Agency’s Earth Return Orbiter.

Scientists believe that Jezero Crater was once filled with water and was home to an ancient river delta and may have had microbial life in the past.

The two new helicopters will be modeled after Ingenuity, which has made 29 flights to Mars and lived a year longer than its planned lifetime, a major achievement given the difficulty of flying in Mars’ extremely thin atmosphere.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Directorate, said Wednesday, “We arrived at our decision based on new studies and recent achievements on Mars, which allowed us to consider options that were clearly a year or so ago.” were not available to us before that.” ,

The new helicopters will be based on its design, but will include wheels and a smaller robotic arm to collect sample tubes of Martian rock. They will effectively act as a backup in case the Persistence rover breaks down.

“We believe we can count on persistence to return samples and we’ve added helicopters as a backup instrument,” Jeff Gremling, director of NASA’s Mars Sample Return Program, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The new plan is a reimagining of NASA’s initial idea to send a secondary rover to Mars and collect solid samples. But it was becoming too heavy, complicating the agency’s plans. NASA said the new effort “will reduce the complexity of future missions and increase the chances of success.”

The space agency and its European partner plan to launch the Earth Return Orbiter and Sample Retriever Lander in 2027 and 2028. That timeline will see the first samples of Martian rock and atmosphere – as many as 30 – come to Earth sometime in 2033.

The samples – the culmination of a multi-billion effort and decades of planning – will be revolutionary for scientists studying life on the Red Planet.

“Bringing samples from Mars to Earth will help scientists around the world use sophisticated instruments to test samples that are too large and too complex to send to Mars and for generations to come,” NASA said on Thursday. will be able to study them.” “Curating samples on Earth will allow the science community to test new theories and models, as Apollo samples returned from the Moon have done for decades.”

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