Engineers recently completed a series of Mars Sample Return Earth Entry System (EES) drop tests that will help return samples from the Red Planet safely to Earth.
For the uninitiated, NASA and the European Space Agency’s Mars Sample Return campaign aims to bring back rocks and soil from the surface of Mars collected by NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover during its exploration of a ancient river delta on the planet.
During recent drop tests conducted at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR), a Manufacturing Demonstration Unit (MDU) of a potential design for the EES aeroshell was fitted with sensors and dropped from a helicopter , at an altitude of 1,200 feet to provide time to reach the planned landing speed.
Video credit: NASA
“It is important that the aeroshell land in a particular orientation and the drop test indicated that the full-scale MDU was stable during the final descent, landing directly on its nose as engineers expected,” said Jim Corliss, chief engineer MSR EES.
Dropped in the name of science 🪨Engineers tested dropping a rugged aeroshell 1,200 feet in the air. It’s part of Mars Sample Return, and when it returns to Earth in the 2030s, the unit will be filled with samples collected by @NASAPersevere. https://t.co/QZC6vMcorp pic.twitter.com/X4YB4XkD7e
—NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 29, 2022
As part of the MSR program, NASA’s sample retrieval lander would carry the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) to the surface of Mars, landing near or in Jezero Crater to collect the samples cached by the Perseverance rover. The samples would be returned to the lander, which would serve as the launch pad for the MAV.
Subsequently, the sample container would be captured by an ESA Earth Return Orbiter spacecraft equipped with NASA’s Capture, Containment, and Return System payload. The spacecraft would bring the samples safely to Earth in the early to mid-2030s.
Once the samples reach Earth, scientists will conduct detailed chemical and physical analyzes in labs around the world to search for signs of past life on Mars.