Mars Sample Return

MISSION Overview
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MISSION PHASE Conceptual

Quick Facts

  • Program Mars Sample Return
  • Main Job Return samples collected by the Mars Perseverance rover to Earth
  • Launch Planned launches in 2027 (orbiter) and 2028 (lander)
  • Landing Location Jezero Crater
  • Return of Samples Expected to arrive on Earth in 2033

Returning Mars Samples to Earth

Returning Mars Samples to Earth

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning ways to bring the first samples of Mars material back to Earth for detailed study. The Mars Perseverance rover is the first leg of this international interplanetary relay team. Its job is to collect and cache samples on Mars. A Sample Return Lander would land near or in Jezero Crater, bringing a small rocket on which the samples collected by Perseverance would be loaded. Two Ingenuity-like helicopters would provide a secondary capability to retrieve samples on the surface of Mars. Once the sample cache is launched off the Red Planet, another spacecraft would capture it in Mars orbit, and then bring it back to Earth safely and securely in the early to mid 2030s. These first collected and returned samples could answer a key question: did life ever exist on Mars? Only by bringing the samples back can we truly answer the question by using the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art labs, at a time when future generations can study them using techniques yet to be invented.

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How We Would Do It

Sample Retrieval Lander
Perseverance Returns Samples to Lander
Sample Recovery Helicopters
Mars Ascent Vehicle
Capture, Containment, and Return System
Earth Return Orbiter
Earth Entry System

Sample Retrieval Lander

Sample Retrieval Landers

A Sample Retrieval Lander would launch to Mars in 2028, carrying with it a NASA-led Mars rocket and a pair of small Mars helicopters. The lander would touch down close to Perseverance's landing location in Jezero Crater.
Lead: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Perseverance Returns Samples to Lander

Perseverance Returns Samples to Lander

Having collected and stored a wide variety of samples, the Perseverance rover would be the primary means of transporting samples to the Sample Retrieval Lander, handing off a collection of sample tubes carried on board. An ESA-provided robotic arm would transfer the tubes into a sample container on the lander's rocket.
Lead: Jet Propulsion Laboratory + European Space Agency

Sample Recovery Helicopters

Perseverance Returns Samples to Lander

A pair of helicopters would provide a secondary capability to pick up additional samples stashed on the surface by Perseverance, bringing them back to the lander for transfer onto the Mars rocket.
Lead: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Mars Ascent Vehicle

Mars Ascent Vehicle

The Mars Ascent Vehicle would be the first rocket ever to launch off the surface of Mars, transporting the container of sample tubes into orbit.
Lead: Marshall Space Flight Center

Capture, Containment, and Return System

Capture/Containment and Return System

The Capture, Containment, and Return System aboard the Earth Return Orbiter would capture the Orbiting Sample container, orient it, and transfer it into a clean zone for return to Earth.
Lead: Goddard Space Flight Center

Earth Return Orbiter

Earth Return Orbiter

The ESA Earth Return Orbiter would carry the NASA-provided Capture, Containment, and Return System and Earth Entry System. The orbiter would launch from Earth in 2027 and meet the sample cache in Mars orbit.

The return system within the orbiter would capture and contain the samples, placing them in the Earth Entry System. The Earth Return Orbiter would then ferry the entry vehicle and its precious cargo back to the vicinity of Earth, where it would separate and safely touchdown on land.
Lead: European Space Agency

Earth Entry System

Earth Entry System

The Earth Entry System would contain the orbiting sample inside a disk-shaped vehicle with a heat shield for safe entry through the Earth's atmosphere.
Lead: Langley and Ames Research Centers

Image of Jezero Crater taken by NASA's Mars Perseverance rover

5 Things to Know

1

The first time several vehicles (a lander, a rocket, and multiple helicopters) would land on the surface of Mars at the same time.

2

First launch from the surface of another planet with the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

3

First international, interplanetary relay effort using multiple missions to bring back samples from another planet.

4

The return of the first set of samples to Earth from a place known to be friendly to life in the distant past.

5

The most carefully selected and well-documented set of samples ever returned from another planet.

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