NASA’s wants new ideas for its troubled Mars Sample Return mission | Space

NASA’s Mars Sample Return program has hit several snags in recent months after being told its current $11 billion plan is too expensive.

The existing Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission plan would require multiple launches to Mars in order to eventually place a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) on the Red Planet’s surface. From there, either the Perseverance rover or other small retrieval helicopters — similar to NASA’s Ingenuity rotorcraft — would pick up Mars samples that Perseverance has already collected, and load them into the MAV. Then, an ascender would launch the samples up to orbit, where a spacecraft would collect them and haul them back toward Earth.

Sound costly and overly ambitious? NASA thinks so, too. That’s why the agency has selected ten studies submitted by industry and academia groups aimed at finding a simpler way of bringing pieces of the Red Planet back to Earth.

Related: NASA’s Mars sample return plan is getting a major overhaul: ‘The bottom line is $11 billion is too expensive’

Seven of the proposals received a $1.5 million contract to conduct 90-day studies, while NASA’s own research centers, Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory make up the other three, though it isn’t yet clear whether the latter will be under the same contract.

Some aerospace industry participants associated with the selected studies include…


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