NASA has selected Northrop Grumman to provide solid propulsion systems and controls for the agency’s Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), the company announced on 8 March. The MAV will be launched to Mars in 2026, with a ‘fetch’ rover to collect soil and rock samples prepared by the PERSEVERANCE rover that landed on the red planet last month.
“We are committed to help build the rockets that will orbit the samples PERSEVERANCE collects so they can be returned to Earth,” stated Rebecca Torzone, VP, Missile Products. “We play a vital role with NASA, as we have for decades, by providing key propulsion and control subsystems in support of human spaceflight and robotic exploration missions.”
Northrop Grumman will provide its STAR first- and second-stage high-performance solid rocket motors, the first-stage thrust vector control system and the second-stage spin rockets for the MAV. Once the MAV and rover arrive on Mars, the rover will spend approximately 18 months collecting samples and transferring collection tubes to the MAV for storage. The MAV will then return to Mars orbit to rendezvous with the Earth Return Orbiter. Northrop Grumman’s propulsion and control system performance is critical to achieving a precise rendezvous orbit.
Similar to the advances scientists have made in studying samples from the Moon for decades, current and future NASA scientists will study the samples returned from Mars to learn more about its composition. The overall campaign also supports efforts to eventually send humans to Mars.
Northrop Grumman has provided mission-critical components on all previous Mars rover missions. PERSEVERANCE uses the LN-200S inertial measurement unit, which provides attitude and acceleration information for guidance, as well as pressurant tanks for the rover’s gas dust removal tool and propellant tanks for its controlled descent element.
An impression of how the MAV, carrying tubes containing rock and soil samples, could be launched from the surface of Mars in one step of the Mars sample return mission. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)