NASA has officially selected Lockheed Martin Space to build the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), which is essentially a small, lightweight rocket to help transport rock, sediment, and atmospheric samples from the surface of the Red Planet. It will be designed to retrieve samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover and deliver them to Earth for advanced study.
How would it work? Well, NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander would transport the MAV to Mars’ surface, or more specifically a landing spot near or in Jezero Crater. It would then gather samples cached by Perseverance and then return it to the lander, which would serve as the launch platform for the MAV. With the sample container is confirmed to be secured, the MAV would then launch.
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Committing to the Mars Ascent Vehicle represents an early and concrete step to hammer out the details of this ambitious project not just to land on Mars, but to take off from it. We are nearing the end of the conceptual phase for this Mars Sample Return mission, and the pieces are coming together to bring home the first samples from another planet. Once on Earth, they can be studied by state-of-the-art tools too complex to transport into space,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.