Work is underway on an essential part of Mars’ return plans.
The Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) is a small, lightweight, two-dimensional rocket with a large workload: samples of blast rock, sediment, and space from Mars in the early 2030s, on the rocket launch for the first time from above another planet.
The MAV, developed by Lockheed Martin Space of Littleton, Colorado, will be integrated with NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL), another significant component of the sample retrieval campaign. Spacecraft-in-one – MAV and SRL – will hit near or at Jezero Crater, where NASA’s Perseverance rover is already busy collecting Mars samples. The second Lander, which owns the European Space Agency (ESA) “pick up a rover,” will hit the same spot again.
The download rover will bring Perseverance samples to the MAV. The rocket will be launched in Mars orbit, where ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) will take its full container. The ERO will then drag the samples to Earth via the Earth Entry System (EES) to arrive at high speed, without a parachute, in the Utah desert by 2033, if all goes according to plan.
That sample return sample, also designed by Lockheed Martin, is made of a lightweight composite structure, covered with special thermal protection provided by NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.
Humanity has never returned pure samples from Mars before, and there are significant challenges facing a team trying to do so, explains Steve Sides, chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin’s Mars Ascent Vehicle Integrated System (MAVIS) based in Huntsville, Alabama.
The point, point, and shoot
The MAV is less than 10 feet long and 1.5 feet wide (3 by 0.5 feet), Sides told Space.com. “It’s a small rocket,” he said, “so aim, point and shoot.”
Lockheed Martin Space provides NASA with multiple MAV test units and aircraft units. The work under the contract includes the design, development, testing, and evaluation of the integrated MAV system and the design and development of rocket support equipment.
The MAVIS cost-plus-fixed-fee contract is approximately $ 194 million and will extend for six years. The clock is ticking. The two SRL-MAV are scheduled to launch in 2028 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, embarking on a long journey to Red Planet.
“The goal is to get there early in the year and take a trip before winter [in Martian],” Sides explained.