The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) on Thursday awarded Northrop Grumman Systems, a unit of major US aerospace group Northrop Grumman, the contract to develop and support the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS), which is an essential element for the planned Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. The contract has a ‘base period’ of 14 months, which can be followed, at Nasa’s discretion, by up to two option periods. Work under the contract started immediately.
MSR is a joint project between Nasa and the European Space Agency. It is intended to collect samples gathered and stored by Nasa’s recently-landed Perseverance rover and return them to Earth. This would then allow scientists to examine these samples using highly sophisticated and sensitive equipment that is too big to be sent to Mars.
The contract to Northrop Grumman Systems is worth a minimum of $60.2-million, with a maximum potential value of $84.5-million. The MSR is a very ambitious mission that would benefit from the decades of experience, knowledge and science obtained from Martian exploration.
The MSR concept is that a Sample Retrieval Lander would touch down on Mars, near Perseverance. The lander would be carrying both a Sample Fetch Rover (SFR) and a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV).
The SFR would be deployed and proceed to Perseverance, from which it would collect the sealed sample containers. It would then return to its own lander and transfer the containers to the two-stage MAV. This would then take off and rendezvous with an Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) circling Mars. The ERO would then bring the samples back to Earth.
Under the MAPS contract, Northrop Grumman will develop two different solid rocket motors for the two stages of the MAV and deliver multiple examples of each. A key factor in the design, development, production, testing and qualification of both rocket motors will be the environment of Mars.