SpaceX, Blue Origin Amongst Companies Selected to Study How to Return Rocks From Mars

NASA has announced plans to award contracts to ten different companies to study how to transport rock samples from Mars back to Earth in a more affordable way.NASA put out a call back in April for proposals on how that transport could happen sometime in the next 16 years and for under $11 billion. Quite a few different companies threw their hat in the ring for the project. A NASA representative told Ars Technical that it received 48 responses to its request. From that group of 48 responses, NASA selected seven different companies to conduct more detailed studies.The companies selected include both SpaceX and Blue Origin. Five of the companies that were awarded contracts are from the agency’s current roster of large contractors including Lockheed Martin, the only company that has built a spacecraft that has successfully landed on Mars thus far. Other companies included in the study are Aerojet Rocketdyne, Quantum Space Northrop Grumman, and Wittinghill Aerospace.Mars Sample Return has been a long-term goal of international planetary exploration over the past 20 years. NASA’s Perseverance rover has been collecting samples to eventually return to Earth since it landed on Mars in 2021.The studies are expected to last for 90 days. In exchange for conducting them, each company will be paid $1.5 million.

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“Mars Sample Return will be one of the most complex missions NASA has undertaken, and it is critical that we carry it out more quickly, with less risk, and at a lower cost,” said Bill Nelson, NASA’s administrator. “I’m excited to see the vision that these companies, centers, and partners present as we look for fresh, exciting, and innovative ideas to uncover great cosmic secrets from the red planet.”The project is part of a strategic partnership between NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency).  The hope is that creating a way to bring samples back from Mars successfully will revolutionize our understanding of the planet.

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