The Perseverance rover, which has just landed on Mars, is equipped with extremely advanced sensing and analysis equipment. It also has an additional “secret mission”: collecting samples of Martian soil and rock with further analysis value, waiting for the future Further mission to send it back to Earth. Now that Perseverance has begun activities on Mars, NASA and its partner ESA have also begun to prepare for the sample retrieval mission, and gave it to Northrop. Graman’s first component contract called “Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS)”.
The sample collection missions planned by NASA and ESA will be divided into three parts. One is the Mars orbiter, this satellite will carry the other two components to Mars, and then return from Mars; the other is the lander, this small probe will land on the same Jezero impact crater as Perseverance Later, a mini rover will be released to rendezvous with Perseverance (or Perseverance can also be driven to the landing site by Perseverance if it is still operating normally), and after obtaining samples of Perseverance, it will return to the lander. Finally, the lander will launch a rocket carrying the obtained sample, go to orbit to meet the aforementioned orbiter, and embark on the return journey. This time the contract is the last rocket launched from the surface of Mars to orbit. Although it is supposed to be the simplest of the three components, it is still very important.
The initial plan is to launch this mission in 2026, land in 2028, and send samples back to Earth in 2031. The total cost is about 3.3 billion US dollars. However, like most large tasks of this kind, delays in schedule or additional funding are common. It’s just that if the time is delayed until SpaceX has already landed on Mars, it will be embarrassing.