Aircraft on Mars is increasing. NASA plans to send two more helicopters to the Red Planet. They will be similar to Ingenuity, which is already operating on Mars. The new helicopters will have to pick up sample tubes collected by the Perseverance rover and transfer them to a lander nearby for delivery to Earth, reports Gizmodo.

This mission has been compared in importance to the Webb Telescope, as it will not only allow the study of Martian samples, but also provide unique experience for the development of subsequent missions. Like Webb, Mars Sample Return is the first such mission. Technically, it has already begun – the Perseverance rover collects samples in the Jezero crater, placing pieces of rock in test tubes, and stores them in itself or leaves them on the surface of Mars. To date, the rover has already collected 10 such samples and is working with the eleventh.

Perseverance is expected to be able to drive up and transfer samples on its own to a spacecraft that will later deliver them into orbit. From there, another spacecraft will be able to transfer them to Earth. Helicopters will be a backup option. They will be identical to the Ingenuity, but will have wheels for traveling on the surface and will weigh slightly more.

Each helicopter will have an “arm” to grab the test tubes. Samples weigh no more than 150 g, so there should be no problems with delivery. The devices will fly at a distance of no more than 700 m from the landing module.

Previously, it was expected that a rover would be sent to deliver samples to the Red Planet. However, the Ingenuity helicopter has proven its effectiveness on Mars, and Perseverance remains in good shape. According to scientists, it will work at least until the early 2030s, without needing a “double”. Sending two helicopters instead of a rover also helped make the mission organizationally simpler. The sample return program is still being designed, so more changes can be expected.