NASA has awarded the contract for returning samples from Mars

NASA has announced that it has awarded the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS) contract to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation. The MAPS contract is to provide propulsion support and products for spaceflight missions at the Marshall Space Flight Center. NASA says that coupled with the recent arrival of Perseverance on Mars, the awarding of the MAPS contract brings NASA and the ESA closer to realizing Mars Sample Return.

Mars Simple Return is a planetary exploration program meant to build on decades of science, knowledge, and experience with exploring Mars. The contract is a cost-plus, fixed-fee contract with a potential mission services value of $60.2 million and a maximum potential value of $84.5 million. Work on MAPS has begun with a 14-month base period with two option periods that could be exercised if NASA desires.

The next steps in the Mars Sample Return campaign will have NASA and the ESA providing components for a Sample Retrieval Lander mission and Earth Return Orbiter mission. The Sample Retrieval Lander mission will deliver a Sample Fetch Rover and Mars Ascent Vehicle to the Red Planet's surface. Marshall Space Flight Center is responsible for the program's ascent vehicle. It's a two-stage vehicle supporting the retrieval and return of samples that Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover will collect for return to earth.

Northrop Grumman will provide the propulsion system for the Mars Ascent Vehicle and other supporting equipment and logistics services. NASA says that bringing samples from Mars back to Earth will allow scientists worldwide to examine specimens using highly sophisticated instruments that are too large and complicated to send to Mars.

Samples will also be put aside for future generations to study using technology that's not yet available. NASA did the same thing with samples returned from the moon during the Apollo era.