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A NASA gave Northrop Grumman the US contract for the development of the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS), which will be a crucial part of an ambitious mission to bring Martian soil samples to Earth.

One of the Perseverance rover's missions, which landed on the planet on February 18, it is to collect “interesting” soil samples. They will be stored in metallic tubes, completely sterile, and left in specific places on the planet.

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In the future a mission called Mars Sample Return, organized by NASA and the European space agency, the ESA, will launch two spacecraft towards Mars. One of them will separate and land, taking the MAPS and a small rover with it.

This rover will collect the samples left by Perseverance and transfer them to MAPS, which will take off from the planet's surface and meet the spacecraft in orbit. Finally, she will return to Earth.

Illustration of the MAPS takeoff on the Mars Sample Return mission
Illustration of the MAPS takeoff on the Mars Sample Return mission, taking samples of Martian soil to Earth. Image: NASA

The MAPS development contract has a maximum value of US $ 84,5 million (R $ 470 million), a small part of the total mission budget, which is US $ 3,3 billion (R $ 18,3 billion) ).

According to Nasa, it covers “support and products” and “takes NASA and ESA a step closer to making Mars Sample Return a reality”.

The original plan is to launch the spacecraft to collect the samples in 2026, land it in 2028 and return the samples to Earth by 2031. These dates, however, are still subject to change.

But before the Perseverance rover can collect samples, its engineers need to make sure it is ready for the mission. This week he moved his robotic arm for the first time on the surface of Mars, an important part of a "check-up" of its systems that has lasted 15 days, since its landing on the planet.

“This week I did a lot of health checks, getting ready to work. I crossed out many tasks on my list, including testing instruments, capturing images, and moving my arm. I'm warming up for a science marathon, ”said the robot on its official Twitter account.

Source: NASA

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