On December 21, the Perseverance rover unloaded a titanium capsule containing a sample of Martian soil to the surface. Thus, NASA began building a sample repository for the Mars Sample Return mission.
Mars Sample Return Mission
In 2028, NASA and ESA are going to launch the Mars Sample Return mission. Its main purpose is to deliver soil samples collected by the Perseverance rover to Earth. One of the main questions facing the mission designers is: how to deliver the capsules to the return module?
The most obvious answer is to use Perseverance itself to deliver them. The rover is powered by a RITEG, so it is not in danger of repeating the fate of Opprotunity and InSight. And as the experience of operating the Curiosity rover shows, the device should be quite able to work at least until the end of the decade.
At the same time, any equipment breaks down sooner or later. The possibility of some unforeseen force majeure, due to which Perseverance will lose mobility, cannot be ruled out either. It is for this case that NASA has developed a backup plan, which includes the creation of repositories of Martian soil samples.
Repository of Martian soil samples
The idea behind the repository is as follows. Perseverance will unload ten capsules at a site called Three Forks. They will be laid out in a zigzag pattern at a distance of 5-15 meters from each other. In the future, these samples will be picked up and delivered to the return module by two small drones, which will also be part of the Mars Sample Return mission. So, if the rover fails before the landing of the returning module, scientists will be able to fetch at least part of the capsules with samples.
There are currently 17 samples aboard Perseverance (16 with soil, one containing a sample of the Martian atmosphere). In total, the rover is equipped with 43 capsules. Perseverance is expected to spend several months offloading the necessary samples. This will be accompanied by careful imaging of the surrounding area to build an accurate map of the region that will allow the capsules to be found, even if they are covered in dust or sand. After that, the rover will continue to explore the traces of the ancient river delta.
Based on materials from https://www.nasa.gov