NASA to send two more helicopters to Mars after success of Ingenuity. Here’s why

Since landing at Mars in February last year, Ingenuity helicopter that was attached to the Perseverance rover, has vastly exceeded the expectations. NASA’s first helicopter successfully collected 11 samples of the Red Planet’s surface. Now, the US space agency is planning to send two more helicopters as part of its Mars Sample Return Program.

The reason behind sending these helicopters to Mars is to bring Mars rocks and dust back to Earth. As per the details shared by NASA, the helicopters’ design will be based on its first success Ingenuity helicopters. 

NASA is conducting this Mars mission in collaboration with the European Space Agency. NASA shared that both the helicopters will possess the ability to grab and transport small tubes filled with bits of Martian rock just like an extraterrestrial drone.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has already completed 29 flights to Mars and has survived more than a year beyond its lifetime; collecting rocks and dust from the planet’s surface. The Martian rocks will be used for examination by scientists using state-of the-art laboratory equipment on Earth that cannot fit into a spacecraft.

NASA, shared a brief of the plan explaining how the Perseverance rover will be used to transfer the rocks to a spacecraft for the return journey. “We’re bringing a piece of Mars back to Earth,” NASA said.

Perseverance rover is currently rolling through Jezero Crater, and picking up samples from the Red Planet that would be lifted off in the Mars Ascent Vehicle and hitch a ride back home in the European Space Agency’s Earth Return Orbiter, NASA shared.

Jeff Gramling, director of NASA’s Mars sample return program said,”We have confidence that we can count on Perseverance to bring the samples back, and we’ve added the helicopters as a backup means.”

According to the plan announced by NASA on 27 July , 2022, NASA’s Perseverance rover will do double duty and transport samples to the rocket that will launch them off Mars a decade from now.

If this mission under the Mars Sample Return Program is completed successfully, Martian rocks will be the first scientific samples to have ever been brought back from another planet. 

The Earth Return Orbiter and Sample Retrieval Lander are scheduled to launch in fall 2027 and summer 2028, with samples expected to return on Earth in 2033.

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