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Lockheed Martin wins NASA contract to build Mars rocket

Capitalism in space: NASA yesterday awarded Lockheed Martin a $194 million contract to build the Mars rocket that will lift Perseverance’s samples into orbit for return to Earth.

Set to become the first rocket fired off another planet, the MAV [Mars Ascent Vehicle] is a crucial part of a campaign to retrieve samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover and deliver them to Earth for advanced study. NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander, another important part of the campaign, would carry the MAV to Mars’ surface, landing near or in Jezero Crater to gather the samples cached by Perseverance. The samples would be returned to the lander, which would serve as the launch platform for the MAV. With the sample container secured, the MAV would then launch.

Once it reaches Mars orbit, the container would be captured by an ESA (European Space Agency) Earth Return Orbiter spacecraft outfitted with NASA’s Capture, Containment, and Return System payload. The spacecraft would bring the samples to Earth safely and securely in the early- to mid-2030s.

According to this project’s webpage, the European Space Agency (ESA) is building that they call a “fetch rover” which will be deployed from the rover to get the samples and bring them back to the MAV.

There are a lot of uncertainties in this scenario. It has been decades since Lockheed Martin built rockets. ESA has not yet built an operational Mars rover. It is also unclear who will build NASA’s lander and capture/return payload. Thus, do not expect this mission to launch “as early as ’26,” as the press release says. I predict it will launch at least five, maybe ever ten years, later.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Willi

    Astra launch now scheduled for noon EST on the 10th.

  • Col Beausabre

    Man, there is so much “this gets transferred to that” – totally ignoring KISS (not the music group). As a military man, I am reminded of the disaster which befell the overly complex Operation Eagle Claw in the Iranian desert four decades ago (Simplicity is one of the Nine Principles of War

    “The principles of war: Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of
    Command, Security, Surprise, Simplicity. Military officers first learn of these principles as
    lieutenants and seek to refine their understanding throughout their careers. They hold a place of
    importance in our doctrine-based force and serve as a “guiding light” to those who would seek
    success on the battlefield. ”

    Generations of officers have been taught to remember them by the phrase “MOSS MOUSE”)

  • Concerned

    Starship, like it’s already doing to SLS, will make plans such as this look silly.
    It’s kind of like getting excited about the Pony Express as the tracks for the transcontinental railroad were being laid. People are still either largely ignorant or in denial about the revolution in space travel that Starship is about to unleash.

  • Gary

    So, how much of this contract is paid out before the project before Starship returns with the package?

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