The mission will land 2 more helicopters on Mars. NASA will also reveal when the samples will arrive on Earth. The Mars Sample Return Program is a big step forward. NASA has finalized the technical requirements for the mission. The conceptual design phase is thus coming to an end.
Changes have been made to the original plan for bringing the Mars samples to Earth. Some of these can be directly attributed to the successes of the Mars rover Perseverance and the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, NASA says. In addition, the schedule was specified.
Perseverance has to drive itself
Thanks to the expected longevity of Perseverance, a component of the mission could be deleted. Because the Mars rover has held up so well so far, NASA assumes that it can bring the rock samples it has taken to the Sample Retrieval Lander itself.
It was previously planned that the Sample Fetch Rover would be sent to Mars with its own lander. This would only have had the task of driving to Perseverance, taking the samples, and then bringing them to the Retrieval Lander.
But the Sample Retrieval Lander will have 2 helicopters in its luggage. These are based on the design and experience gained with Ingenuity. They're the backup plan to pick up Perseverance's samples if the need arises.
ESA would have built Sample Fetch Rover
The canceled Sample Fetch Rover would have been built by ESA. However, the European space agency is still involved in the mission. ESA's Sample Transfer Arm will load the collected sample tubes into the container, which will then fly into space on NASA's Mars Ascent Vehicle.
ESA's Earth Return Orbiter is waiting there. He should pick up the container and fly back to earth with it.
The Earth Return Orbiter will be launched towards Mars in autumn 2027. The Sample Retrieval Lander will launch in the summer of 2028. If all goes as planned, the Mars samples will arrive on Earth in 2033.