How NASA's Perseverance Rover will build sample depot on Mars
NASA's Perseverance Rover will soon begin setting up the first-ever sample depot on Mars. Over the next 30 days, the Rover will deposit 10 sealed titanium tubes containing Martian samples at "Three Forks," a region in the Jezero Crater. This marks a crucial milestone for the NASA-ESA mission which plans to bring back the specimens from the red planet to Earth for in-depth analysis.
Why does this story matter?
- This is the first time that a sample repository of this kind is being created on another planet.
- The six-wheeled robotic explorer, which set foot on Mars on February 18, 2021, has collected various Martian samples including rocks and regolith.
- The obtained specimens will be brought back to Earth via the Mars Sample Return program in 2030.
The Rover has been picking up Martian samples in pairs
The Rover has been collecting Martian samples in duplicates. One set will be dropped at the Three Forks region while the other will remain inside the Rover's belly, where the obtained samples are usually stored. All the sealed sample tubes cannot be stacked in one spot because the helicopters, involved with creating the depot, can interact with only one sample tube at a time.
How will the sample depot be created?
The sample tubes will be deposited at the Three Forks region in a zigzag pattern, with a distance of 16-49 feet between each sample. This is to ensure that the recovery helicopter can smoothly retrieve samples free from obstructions and without disturbing the rest of the depot. Each "tube-drop location" will have an "area of operation" that measures at least 18 feet wide.
The Rover's extended mission will start on January 7, 2023
Perseverance Rover will complete its prime mission on January 6, 2023. The team will continue to work on the sample depot process on the extended mission which commences on January 7, 2023. After that, the Rover will head to the top portion of Jezero Crater, where it will probe for boulders and other materials that led to the formation of the ancient river delta.
The placement of the Martian samples is a crucial step
One of the key requirements to build a sample depot on Mars would be to find a relatively flat and rock-free region at the Jezero Crater where each of the 10 tubes can be safely deployed. The success of the creation of the sample depot will depend on how accurately the sample tubes are positioned, and this process could take over a month.
The team will be closely monitoring the process
The team will monitor the process by reviewing the pictures clicked by the Rover before and after it drops the sample tubes at the intended location. This will also help the Mars Sample Return team record the precise location of the tubes, in case they become covered by Martian dust or sand before they are brought back to Earth.
The Rover has collected different kinds of Martian rocks
"The samples for this depot—and the duplicates held aboard Perseverance—are an incredible set representative of the area explored during the prime mission," said Meenakshi Wadhwa, Mars Sample Return program's principal scientist. "We not only have igneous and sedimentary rocks that record at least two and possibly four or even more distinct styles of aqueous alteration but also regolith, atmosphere, and witness tube."