NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover runs the science campaign and is busy exploring while collecting samples in the ancient Crater Lake River Delta. The rover is looking for places where the planned Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign can land with the spacecraft and collect sample tubes that Perseverance has filled with rock and sediment. The research areas are evaluated because of their proximity to the delta and each other and their flat topography suitable for land.
Because it is more challenging to land on rocks and undulating surfaces, engineers planning to land on Mars prefer to work on flatter ground. With this in mind, the MSR Entry, Landing, and Landing crew is looking for a flat pancake landing site with a radius of 200 feet (60 meters).
“The Perseverance team gave us every opportunity because Mars Sample Return has unique needs in terms of where we operate,” said Richard Cook, MSR Program Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “An unlit landing spot is fine. The flatter and less inspiring the landscape, the more we like it because while there’s so much to do when we come to sample, a trip isn’t one of them.”
The first phase of MSR is already underway: Perseverance has cored, collected, and sealed nine Martian rock samples. The ninth, held on July 6, is the first of the ancient Crater Lake river delta. Perseverance plans to drop or deposit sample tubes to the surface to await later retrieval during MSR surface treatments.
Choosing an area free of large rocks (especially those larger than 7 1/2 inches or 19 centimeters), dunes, and steep terrain will make it much easier for the MSR recovery vehicle to grab the pipes effectively.