Sample Retrieval Lander

Illustration concept of the dome-shaped Mars Sample Retrieval Lander on the reddish-brown Martian surface. Visible are five flat multi-sided solar panels,white tripod-style legs--two in the front and one partly visible toward the back--three round goldish fueling tanks, and part of a fourth tank.
Mars Sample Retrieval Lander Concept Illustration: A Sample Retrieval Lander would launch in 2028, carrying a NASA-led Mars rocket and small Mars helicopters. The lander would touch down close to Perseverance's location in Jezero Crater. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›


NASA's Sample Retrieval Lander would touch down on Mars and remain in place to receive a diverse collection of scientifically curated samples of Martian rock already collected and cached by NASA's Perseverance rover.

The lander would be the first ever to bring along a rocket — NASA's Mars Ascent Vehicle — and two helicopters, to help achieve the goal of bringing the samples safely to Earth for study. The Mars Ascent Vehicle would launch off the Red Planet, carrying samples into Mars orbit to meet the Earth Return Orbiter provided by ESA (European Space Agency). The orbiter would then take the samples the rest of the way to our planet. The two NASA Sample Recovery Helicopters, modified versions of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter that Perseverance brought to Mars, would serve as backups for Perseverance's task of bringing sample tubes to the lander.

In addition, the lander would carry ESA's Sample Transfer Arm to load the sample tubes into the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

Role in Mars Sample Return Campaign

The Sample Retrieval Lander would play an important role to safely bring Mars rock and atmosphere samples to Earth, delivering crucial spacecraft and hardware to the Red Planet: the rocket that would launch samples from Mars, the two helicopters, and a robotic arm to transfer the samples into the rocket. Once the samples are on Earth, scientists around the world would examine them using sophisticated instruments too large and complex to send to Mars. The samples would remain available for future generations to study with increasingly advanced technologies. Scientists believe the samples could shed light on whether life has ever existed on Mars.

Quick Facts

This cutout concept illustration of the Mars Sample Retrieval Lander shows five flat multi-sided solar panels, two of its tripod-style legs, a white arm mechanism protruding from the left side, and three fueling tanks, plus part of a fourth tank.
Project Name Sample Retrieval Lander
Main Job Receive samples collected by Perseverance rover and prepare them for their journey to Earth.
Launch Date Planned launch in 2028
Mars Arrival 2030
Sample Return
to Earth
Samples would arrive on Earth in 2033
Landing Site Near the Perseverance rover's landing site in Jezero Crater

Anatomy of the Sample Retrieval Lander

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Sample Retrieval Lander

Sample Transfer Arm

The ESA-provided hardware would load the sample tubes from the Perseverance rover or from the Martian surface into the Orbiting Sample container. x

Solar Panels

Five solar panels would provide power for activities on the lander and the payloads, and for recharging the batteries. x

Descent Engines

Would maneuver and slow down the spacecraft after it separates from the entry system until it touches down on the Mars surface. x

Lander Feet

Designed to support a safe landing and a stable platform on the surface of Mars. x

Propellant Tanks

Stores propellant used by the Descent Engines on the lander. x

Mars Ascent Vehicle Bay

Stores and launches the Mars Ascent Vehicle. x

Orbiting Sample Access Door

The door would allow access for the Sample Transfer Arm to load sample tubes into the Orbiting Sample container on the top of the Mars Ascent Vehicle. x

Tech Specs

Length About the size of an average two-car garage; tentatively planned to be 25.4 feet wide (~7.7 meters) and 6.9 feet high (2.1 meters) with solar panels deployed
Mass 3,375 kilograms
Weight ~7,440 pounds on Earth
~2,790 pounds on Mars
Deck Height 82.7 inches (210 centimeters)
Robotic Arm Length 78.7 inches (2 meters) outstretched
Power Source Five solar panels, ~7.2 feet (2.19 meters) in diameter, and a secondary battery to power the lander on the surface of Mars.

5 Things to Know


Biggest Lander Ever Sent to Mars
The payload mass of the lander is double that of the Perseverance rover (1,241 pounds, or 563 kilograms). The lander's hefty cargo would include a rocket, sample transfer arm, and two helicopters. Each landing leg would be roughly the size of a human adult, with the whole lander standing about as tall as a professional basketball player.


Enabling First Launch from Another Planet
The Sample Retrieval Lander would be the first-ever spacecraft to carry a rocket to another planet and launch it from there. The lander would launch the Mars Ascent Vehicle by "tossing" it upward as high as 14.8 feet (4.5 meters) above the lander — or 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) above the Martian surface. Once aloft, the rocket would ignite and fly off to release the container of sample tubes into a stable orbit around Mars for rendezvous with ESA's Earth Return Orbiter.


First Mars Vehicle to Carry Two Helicopters
These aerial explorers would be based on the Ingenuity Helicopter carried to the Red Planet by the Perseverance rover. They would have wheels added for agility and a small arm to grab one sample tube at a time, in case the helicopters are needed to help retrieve Mars samples left by Perseverance.


Ultra-Precision Landing
The lander needs to be close to the Perseverance rover to facilitate the transfer of Mars samples. It must land within 66 yards (60 meters) of its target site — much closer than previous Mars rovers and landers. The lander would take advantage of an enhanced version of NASA's successful Terrain Relative Navigation that helped land Perseverance safely. The new Enhanced Lander Vision System would, among other improvements, add a second camera, an altimeter, and better capabilities to use propulsion for precision landing.


Interactions with Multiple Vehicles
The lander would interact with the Perseverance rover, the Sample Recovery Helicopters (as needed), and the Mars Ascent Vehicle in order to prepare the sample tubes for launch into orbit around Mars. The task requires many highly accurate robotic arm movements, to be performed by ESA's Sample Transfer Arm.