SpaceX Starship to save failed Mars Sample Return mission

NASA’s Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission has been threatened by financial problems and technical difficulties. An independent expert commission last year expressed doubts about the return of valuable samples from the surface of Mars, as its implementation by available technologies turned out to be “unrealistic.” Also, the Mars Sample Return turned out to be too expensive, because NASA began to cut its budget, which even led to the resignation of 530 employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Illustration of how Starship descends into the Martian atmosphere to rescue the Mars Sample Return mission

Although NASA tried to keep the mission from completely failing. To save the Mars Sample Return, the space agency has made a public request to private space companies that could come up with a cheaper solution to return samples collected by the Perseverance rover. The importance of delivering the collected material from Mars is that the samples contain the answer to the scientific question: was there life on the Red Planet before? And this question can only be answered on Earth with modern laboratory equipment, because Perseverance and Curiosity simply cannot do such a detailed analysis.

As it turned out, SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft appeared to be an important candidate for the role of a rescue vehicle for this mission. Elon Musk expressed his opinion about its potential in his social media post, noting that Starship can deliver significant cargo from Mars within five years. Experts also consider Starship to be the ideal vehicle to do this task, given NASA’s plans to use it to deliver astronauts to the moon.

One of the ten containers with precious samples placed by the Perseverance rover lies on the surface of Mars, waiting to return to Earth. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Regarding NASA’s current plan to return samples from Mars, it requires extremely large funds and several years of planning, because its implementation has a rather complex plan and a bulky design using several spacecraft at once. Starship can greatly simplify this process by providing the ability to both land and take off from the Martian surface. 

Although it is currently uncertain whether Starship will actually be used to collect samples from Mars due to its technical limitations, SpaceX has brought a ray of hope for the successful completion of the mission with impressive scientific potential. Exploring materials from Mars can reveal unique aspects of the evolution of the Solar System, and using Starship can greatly facilitate this process.

Earlier, we reported on how NASA found the funds to launch the Dragonfly mission to Titan.

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