Mars Sample Return

MISSION Overview
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MISSION PHASE Conceptual

Quick Facts

  • Mission Mars Sample Return Campaign
  • Main Job Return samples collected by the Mars Perseverance rover to Earth
  • Launch Opportunities in the mid to late 2020s
  • Projects Sample Retrieval Lander
    Earth Return Orbiter
  • Landing As early as 2028
  • Landing Location Jezero Crater
  • Length of Missions Return to Earth planned for early 2030s

Returning Mars Samples to Earth

Returning Mars Samples to Earth

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working to plan ways to bring the first samples of Mars rock and broken rock/dust 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. Two Mars Sample Return missions are planned to follow in Perseverance's footsteps to the vicinity of Jezero Crater. The first would land near or in Jezero, collect and then launch the sample cache off the Red Planet. The second 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
Fetch Rover
Perseverance Returns Samples to Lander
Mars Ascent Vehicle
Capture/Containment and Return System
Earth Return Orbiter
Earth Entry System

Sample Retrieval Lander

Sample Retrieval Lander

A NASA-led Sample Retrieval Lander launches to Mars in the mid 2020s, carrying with it an ESA-led sample fetch rover and a NASA-led Mars rocket. The lander would touch down close to Perseverance's landing location, Jezero Crater, and deposit the fetch rover.
Lead: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Fetch Rover

Fetch Rover

The fetch rover's main job is to pick up the samples stashed by Perseverance, bring them back to the lander, and transfer them to the Mars rocket, the fourth runner in the relay chain.
Lead: European Space Agency

Perseverance Returns Samples to Lander

Perseverance Returns Samples to Lander

This relay team has an option built in to send an alternate runner to deliver the samples if needed. As part of this second option, Perseverance can retain some of its collected samples onboard and deliver them directly to 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 sample return container 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) captures the Orbiting Sample container, orients it and transfers it into a clean zone for return to Earth.
Lead: Goddard Space Flight Center

Earth Return Orbiter

Earth Return Orbiter

The ESA-led Earth Return Orbiter is the fifth runner in this chain. It carries the NASA-led Capture Containment and Return System and Earth Entry Vehicle.

The return orbiter launches from Earth in the mid 2020s. It meets the sample cache in Mars orbit.

The return system within the orbiter captures and contains the samples, placing them in the entry vehicle. The Earth Return Orbiter then ferries the Earth Entry Vehicle and its precious cargo back to the vicinity of Earth, where the entry vehicle will separate and safely touchdown on land.
Lead: European Space Agency

Earth Entry System

Earth Entry System

The Earth Entry System contains 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 would land (a lander, a rover, and a rocket) 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 well-documented set of samples ever returned from another planet.

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