AeroVironment has been awarded a US$10m (£7.9m) contract by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to co-design and support the development of conceptual designs and engineering development units of various Mars Sample Recovery Helicopter flight systems.
The Sample Recovery Helicopters are modelled after the successful Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, carried to the Red Planet by NASA’s Perseverance rover. These specialised rotorcraft would be a secondary method of sample retrieval for the NASA/ESA Mars Sample Return Campaign.
Currently, the Perseverance rover, which has already been collecting a diverse set of scientifically curated samples for potential safe return to Earth, where materials can be examined by equipment that is too heavy or complex to bring to Mars.
The Sample Recovery Helicopters are intended to build on Ingenuity’s existing design, adding wheels and gripping capabilities to pick up cached sample tubes left on the surface by Perseverance and transport them to the Sample Retrieval Lander.
Some of the areas covered by this contract could include detailed design, build and test of qualification and flight hardware.
AeroVironment engineers from the MacCready Works team previously worked with NASA JPL to co-design and build the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which has completed 52 successful flights to date on Mars and survived 781 sols (a Martian day) on the surface.
“Accomplishing the impossible has been AeroVironment’s mission for more than 50 years and we are excited to be working with the NASA JPL team again to conquer the next challenge,” said Scott Newbern, AeroVironment’s vice president and chief technology officer.
“Ingenuity’s flights on Mars are a giant leap for robotic technology. Now we’re advancing this science further by helping to build helicopters that not only will continue flight on Mars, but also will include apparatus to collect samples to bring back to Earth for this historic mission.”
The two planned Sample Recovery Helicopters would be a secondary method of sample retrieval for the NASA/ESA Mars Sample Return Campaign.
NASA’s Perseverance rover, which has already been collecting selected samples for potential return to Earth, is currently intended to be the primary method of delivering samples to the Sample Retrieval Lander.
Once the sample cache is launched off of Mars, a secondary spacecraft would capture it in Mars orbit, and then bring it back to Earth safely and securely in the early to mid-2030s.
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the project for NASA Headquarters.