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  • Marijan Hassan - Tech Journalist

NASA invests $10M in innovative ideas for faster, cheaper “Mars Sample Return” mission

NASA is revving up its efforts to bring Martian rocks and soil back to Earth for in-depth analysis. The space agency announced awarding $1.5 million contracts to seven different companies to refine their proposals for the Mars Sample Return mission.

This initiative marks a shift for the program, which previously faced challenges due to high costs and extended timelines. NASA is seeking fresh ideas to retrieve the samples collected by the Perseverance rover on Mars and return them to Earth in a more efficient and affordable way, ideally by the 2030s.

NASA says that the Mars Sample Return is one of the most critical missions for understanding the Red Planet. By handing out these contracts, it hopes to foster innovation and secure a faster, more cost-effective path to bring Martian pieces home.

The chosen companies include Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, Quantum Space, Northrop Grumman, and Whittinghill Aerospace.

They will utilize the funding to further develop their concepts for spacecraft, launchers, and other technologies crucial for retrieving the Martian samples and transporting them safely back to Earth.

Before awarding the contracts to the private companies, NASA had been working on the Mars Sample Return mission in-house, but it proved too complicated and expensive. Its plan involved the Perseverance rover, a sample retrieval lander, a rocket called a Mars Ascent Vehicle, and an Earth return orbiter. These vehicles would need to work in perfect synchronicity to collect and transport the samples.

This renewed push for Mars Sample Return comes after the Perseverance rover successfully collected ten core samples from the Jezero Crater on Mars. These samples hold immense potential for unlocking secrets about the Martian past, including the possibility of past microbial life.

The competition for the Mars Sample Return mission promises to be exciting. With a focus on cost reduction and accelerated timelines, NASA is hoping to secure a groundbreaking mission that will revolutionize our understanding of Mars.


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