Testing Mars Sample Return

December 13, 2021
  • english

Teams across multiple NASA centers and the European Space Agency are working together to prepare a set of missions that would return the samples being collected by the Mars Perseverance rover safely back to Earth. From landing on the Red Planet and collecting the samples to launching them off the surface of Mars for their potential return to Earth, groundbreaking technologies and methods are being developed and tested. This video features some of that prototype testing underway for the proposed Sample Retrieval Lander, Mars Ascent Vehicle launch systems, and the Earth Entry System. A variety of testing is taking place at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Marshall Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.


John Gallon: Three...two...one...


John Gallon: Fire!

[mechanism firing]

Pavlina Karafillis: If there’s a question that we don’t know the answer to, we will test it.


[Off-screen voice] Sequencer on...five...four…

Pavlina Karafillis: ...three...two…

[Off-screen voice] One!



[mechanism firing]




Cassie Smith: Now that the Perseverance rover has started to collect the first samples, it has kicked off the Mars Sample Return mission.

Pavlina Karafillis: The goal of Mars Sample Return is to pick up those samples from Mars and bring them back to Earth.

Cassie Smith: This mission has many crucial components involving many NASA centers as well as international partners.

Cassie Smith: The tests we’re running right now are just the first step in making this mission possible.


Pavlina Karafillis: What this testbed is working to achieve is early prototype drop tests for the Sample retrieval lander that’s going to go pick up the rock samples on Mars.


Pavlina Karafillis: Three...two...one!

[metal impacts]

Chris Chattelier: After we’ve landed on Mars, the samples have been transferred into the Mars Ascent System -

Alex Bielawiec: - We take the rocket and we actually throw it up in the air before we light it off.

[launch roar]

Chris Chattelier: It’s an ambitious effort because we’ve never done this before.

John Gallon: Sequencer armed. Three...two...one...fire!

[mechanism firing]

Chris Chattelier: This test that we just did goes a long way to showing that it’s possible.

Alex Bielawiec: That this is the correct path to go down to have a successful launch on Mars.



Cassie Smith: Once the samples have left the surface of Mars, they will be captured by the Earth Return Orbiter where they will be safely contained so they can be brought back to Earth.


Scott Perino: This particular tower is designed to test out one of the last elements of Mars Sample Return: this impact landing on Earth.

[Off Screen Voice] Three...two...one.

[mechanism firing]


Scott Perino: We get to demonstrate how strong these hardware elements are to prove that these samples can be brought back safely. That we design a system that can stay contained and keep these Mars materials separate from the Earth’s biosphere.

Scott Perino: We’re still in the development phase right now, and so we’re still using these tests as a learning mechanism.

Pavlina Karafillis: We need to know the information to make sure that we can make a mission on another planet work.

Alex Bielawiec: In order to accomplish goals such as bringing samples back from Mars you have to sometimes dare mighty things.