The Mars Sample Return Program is an ambitious project that seeks to return valuable Martian soil samples to Earth without human intervention. This project is a joint initiative of NASA and ESA, and is considered one of the most important scientific projects in history.
The mission will consist of sending a robotic arm about 2.5 meters long to Mars, provided by the European Space Agency. It has a collection of sensors, two cameras and a gripper to pick up the capsules. This will be in charge of transporting tubes full of samples to a rocket to return them to Earth. To achieve this, you will have to take the same to the spacecraft Mars Ascent Vehicle.
“The sample transfer arm is designed to be self-contained, highly reliable and robust,” says ESA in its official Web. In addition, they point out that the robot is capable of “performing a wide range of movements with seven degrees of freedom.” Without a doubt, this is an incredible achievement of modern engineering.
For a while, NASA has been collecting samples on Mars with its Perseverance rover. But they are not the only ones to collect. The robotic arm will also search for some soil samples that were left near the lander by the Ingenuity-class helicopters.
NASA and ESA commit to a long-term mission to reveal the history of Mars
In the animated video released by ESA, the Sample Retrieval Lander’s robotic arm is seen collecting a sample of the Martian soil. Later, it is inserted into the sample store of the Mars Ascent Vehicle. Upon completion of all collection on the red planet, the Mars Ascent Vehicle will be rocketed into orbit, where it will be recovered by the Return-to-Earth Orbiter.
NASA and ESA anticipate the launch of the Earth Return Orbiter by 2027. Meanwhile, the Sample Retrieval Lander would wait until 2028. After the Mars Ascent Vehicle rendezvous with the Earth Return Orbiter, the NASA and ESA hope to have the samples on our planet during 2033 for further analysis.
Of course, there is still a long time to go before all this becomes a reality. However, if we had samples of the Martian soil on Earth, we would finally be close to revealing the past of the red planet. Did it ever host life in its entire history? That is something we will be able to answer in the next decade.