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9 Jun, 2024
1 min time to read

NASA has taken a significant step towards its ambitious $11 billion, 15-year Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission by awarding $1.5 million contracts to seven private companies. The goal is to explore innovative ways to collect and return samples from Mars.

The selected companies and their proposals are as follows:

  • Lockheed Martin: “Lockheed Martin Rapid Mission Design Studies for Mars Sample Return”
  • SpaceX: “Enabling Mars Sample Return With Starship”
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne: “A High-Performance Liquid Mars Ascent Vehicle, Using Highly Reliable and Mature Propulsion Technologies, to Improve Program Affordability and Schedule”
  • Blue Origin: “Leveraging Artemis for Mars Sample Return”
  • Quantum Space: “Quantum Anchor Leg Mars Sample Return Study”
  • Northrop Grumman: “High TRL MAV Propulsion Trades and Concept Design for MSR Rapid Mission Design”
  • Whittinghill Aerospace: “A Rapid Design Study for the MSR Single Stage Mars Ascent Vehicle

These proposals were chosen to simplify and enhance NASA's current MSR mission, which involves complex components including the Perseverance rover and various spacecraft. An independent review recommended re-evaluating the mission design due to technical and financial concerns.

NASA is seeking less complex, cost-effective solutions to accelerate the timeline for returning Martian samples. The companies will begin work in July and finalize the study in October.