Since the success of helicopter Ingenuity, the ESA rover for fetching samples was cancelled in favor of a helicopter. Why was that? What are the advantages.


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I'm trying to find good primary sources, but a lot of the QA on the site support reasons already. See, for example, Why should the Mars 2020 rover drop drilled cores along its route to be picked up later? and Why does the Perseverance Rover do sample caching?

Let's refer to slides from the 2021 ESA Mars Sample Return Caching Workshop.

Pages 21 thru 23 give us some requirements for a "Sample Fetch Rover," which was then (a preliminary design? I'm honestly not clear how developed it is, honestly it looks like they could've already had a dozen floating around ESA HQ delivering mail and snacks) a wheeled rover. Some relevant excerpts:

SFR Surface Mission must be completed in a limited period of time driven by the landing date and the latest MAS launch opportunity

SFR would have to cover several kilometers in its return trip from the Landing Site to the Depot and back, driving several hundreds of meters per sol. To comply with the different terrains and the limited time, SFR design is focusing on fast locomotion and high level of autonomous navigation. Among its intended features there is the capability of absolute global localization and fast computation of terrain and navigation data

In addition to its primary goal, SFR would also record in video the MAS launch

SFR would be constrained to operate within green pathways (benign terrain types with low rock coverage and slopes)

A retrieval helicopter can cover a hundred+ meters straight-line distance per sol (I believe the current distance record for Ingenuity is the May 27, 2022 flight of 704 meters) with considerably less risk from the intervening terrain. It also has more flexibility to choose observation angles for the MAS launch.

Perseverance is also planning to leave a sample cache in Jezero in addition to the one it will create later, in part because of the risk that it and its samples may not be reachable by the Mars Sample Return mission once it enters the Extended Mission Target region (depicted in page 25 of the slides). A sample retrieval helicopter's ability to cover the distance between the two sites and potentially address both cache sites inside the launch opportunity timeframe is likely better than that of a rover.

  • $\begingroup$ If it's public I'd really like to see the trade study between wheeled rover and helicopter, but I haven't found it yet. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 0:38

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