The importance of this so-called Sample Return mission is extraordinary. For the first time ever, humans would have access to proven pieces of Mars to study in detail with all the might of the technology available here on Earth. NASA is working with its European counterpart ESA on this and plans to launch the mission probably in the early years of the next decade.
Mars Sample Return is a very complicated endeavor that includes many pieces of hardware. First, we have the rocket to launch it. Then, the spacecraft that will travel to Mars. Next, an orbiter to position itself above the planet and wait for the samples to be brought up.
Then comes the descent stage, which will lower on the Red Planet's surface a rover tasked with finding and retrieving Perseverance’s gifts, and an ascent vehicle that will take them up to the orbiter once found.
The mission is still in its early stages, and NASA has just begun assigning contracts. The one for the Mars Ascent Propulsion System (MAPS), as the hardware that will lift the samples from Mars is called, went last week to Northrop Grumman. MAPS is what powers the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), a two-stage piece of hardware that is of critical importance to the mission: without it, no Martian samples will reach Earth.
Over the next 14 months, Northrop Grumman will have to come up with the initial design for MAPS.