Perseverance Rover Begins Building Backup Depot of Mars Samples

The first sample tube containing a small core of igneous rock deposited by NASA’s Perseverance rover on December 21, 2022, the 653rd sol of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021, with the goals of studying Mars’ geology and past climate and searching for evidence of past microbial life. As the first leg of the Mars Sample Return program, Perseverance has been collecting samples of martian rock and regolith and inserting them into sample collection tubes, which are stored within the rover for future return to Earth.

On December 21, 2022, after almost one martian year in operation, the Perseverance team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory directed the rover to retrieve a sample collection tube from its internal caching system and drop it 89 centimeters down to the surface at a location dubbed Three Forks. After dropping the tube, Perseverance angled the Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering (WATSON) camera at the end of its two-meter-long arm to look beneath it, allowing the engineering team to confirm that the tube had not rolled into the path of the rover’s wheels and was not standing on end, which would impede its future retrieval. The sample tube, which contains a 3.07-centimeter-long core of igneous rock previously collected in a region of Jezero called South Séítah, is the first to be deposited in a planned 10-sample depot at Three Forks. Since late December, seven tubes have been placed at the depot, and the remainder will be deposited over the following weeks.

The Three Forks depot is a backup of duplicate samples that remain within Perseverance’s internal cache. NASA is cooperating with the European Space Agency to design a lander to which Perseverance would deliver its retained samples. However, if the rover is unable to deliver the sample tubes, the lander will retrieve them at Three Forks using two small helicopters — similar to Ingenuity that accompanied Perseverance — that it will carry on board. Whichever samples are collected, they will be returned to Earth to be studied in sophisticated laboratory facilities only available on our home planet. READ MORE