NASA chooses seven companies to organize the return of samples from Mars

The U.S. space agency has selected seven companies that will be tasked with developing a new way to return to Earth the soil samples that the Curiosity rover has been collecting for the past several years. In the near future, the concepts should be presented to them, and work will begin next year to bring one of them to life.

Sample return from Mars. Source: spacenews

NASA involves private companies in returning samples from Mars

NASA officials announced that they had identified the companies that would be tasked with developing and implementing a new approach to bring back soil samples from Mars that the Curiosity rover was currently collecting. There will be seven in total: Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Quantum Space, SpaceX и Whittinghill Aerospace. 

The need to involve the project formerly known as Mars Sample Return (MSR) arose a few months ago. The space agency has spent several years developing a vehicle that would return samples on its own, but an analysis in April of this year showed that making that concept a reality would require $11 billion and wouldn’t be completed no earlier than 2040.

So, they put in a request to private companies to see if they could develop a new concept that would make it cheaper. Now all the responses from them have been received and analyzed, and the main participants in the competition have been identified. Each company will have 90 days to create a preliminary design, which will then be evaluated by experts.

What the participants will offer

Starting in mid-July, the countdown will begin. In 45 days, each company must issue an interim report on the development of the concept, and in 90 days — the final one. After that, experts will evaluate each one for alterations that need to be made to the MSR project and plan to resume work on implementation starting from the new year.

Quite little is known about the path that certain companies will take so far. Three of them, Aerojet, Northrop and Whittinghill will focus on a new concept for the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), a rocket that will lift samples from its surface into orbit. Everyone agrees that this is the most challenging part of the project.

At the same time, the other companies will go the other way. SpaceX will obviously offer to solve everything at once with Starship. Blue Origin will figure out how to use elements of the lunar program, such as the Space Launch System and Lunar Gateway, for this purpose.

In addition, NASA will have its own team, which will also try to improve the current concept and do it in the same time frame. Interestingly, at the same time, the need to speed up the return of samples is not put before companies. This was done specifically to prevent them from coming up with deliberately unrealistic ideas.

According to