May 9, 2023
NASA has awarded a $10 million contract for two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for collecting and transporting samples from Mars.
The commission, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, went to drone company AeroVironment, which previously assisted with the creation of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.
The UAVs, dubbed theMars Sample Recovery Helicopters, are designed to collect and transport samples from the planet’s surface to NASA’s sample retrieval lander. The devices will build on Ingenuity's design, adding wheels and gripping capabilities. AeroVironment has said it will also feature “upgraded robotics to supplement aerial mobility.”
Since the Ingenuity was deposited on Mars in 2021, it has completed 52 flights. The device is powered by a lithium-ion battery with a solar panel for charging.
“Ingenuity’s flights on Mars are a giant leap for robotic technology,” said Scott Newbern, AeroVironment chief technology officer. “Now we’re advancing this science further by helping to build helicopters that not only will continue flight on Mars, but also will include apparatus to collect samples to bring back to Earth for this historic mission.”
The two helicopters are intended to be a secondary sample collection method for the Mars mission, alongside NASA’s Perseverance rover.
Once the samples are delivered back to the Sample Retrieval Lander, they would then be transported back to Earth for analysis using another spacecraft. Completion of the mission is estimated to be in the early 2030s.
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