NASA’s JPL to Launch Two More Mars Helicopters

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

This illustration shows a concept for multiple robots that would team up to ferry to Earth samples of rock and soil collected from the Martian surface by NASA's Mars Perseverance rover.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars helicopter experiment worked so nicely they had to do it twice.

When NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena landed its rover nicknamed Perseverance on the surface of Mars one year ago, it carried a prototype solar-powered helicopter named Ingenuity. The interstellar helicopter has since performed 29 flights on Mars following its historic first takeoff last April, providing scientists with valuable and previously never seen drone footage of the planet.

NASA has been sending four wheeled robots or rovers to Mars since it first landed the Sojourner in 1997. This new mission has two goals: exploring one of Earth’s closest neighboring planets and also gathering samples to take home for analysis – part of the JPL’s Mars Sample Return Program.

NASA said this week that the Perseverance Rover is currently collecting samples near Mars’ Jezero Crater. But the JPL just decided the success of the early Ingenuity flights indicated it could do more testing and sample collection from the air.

Partnering with the European Space Agency, NASA and the JPL will swap the planned Sample Fetch Rover for two helicopters that are based on Ingenuity’s design.

“There are some significant and advantageous changes to the plan, which can be directly attributed to Perseverance’s recent successes at Jezero and the amazing performance of our Mars helicopter,” NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement Thursday.

The new mission is still in its conceptual design phase. In simplified terms, here’s how the revised plan will go down: NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander will land on Mars, carrying a small rocket called the Mars Ascent Vehicle. The existing Perseverance Rover and new helicopters will collect samples of Martian soil and rocks and then put them into sealed tubes that the Mars Ascent Vehicle can ferry back to Earth, where scientists will eagerly be awaiting their arrival.

The Sample Retrieval Lander won’t launch until at least summer of 2028, NASA said. We can’t expect to see samples from that upcoming mission back on Earth until at least 2033.

That lengthy commute is a small trade-off considering the valuable information about the Red Planet that NASA could extract from the samples. It could go a long way towards, say, figuring out if we really could grow potatoes on Mars and sustain life on the planet.

Ingenuity was supposed to be just a test vehicle, but it outperformed the JPL’s expectations. It has proven to NASA, and the larger world, that Mars helicopters are actually a viable way to gain valuable insights about Mars and—perhaps—our other neighbors in the solar system.

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Astrolab's New SpaceX-backed Rover Could Change Space Exploration Forever

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Astrolab's New SpaceX-backed Rover Could Change Space Exploration Forever
Photo by Samson Amore

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Local Los Angeles-area startup Astrolab Inc. has designed a new lunar vehicle called FLEX, short for Flexible Logistics and Exploration Rover. About the size of a Jeep Wrangler, FLEX is designed to move cargo around the surface of the moon on assignment. It’s a bit larger than NASA’s Mars rovers, like Perseverance, but as it’s designed for transport and mobility rather than precision measurement, it can travel much faster, at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour across the lunar surface.

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Meet the Creator Economy’s Version of LinkedIn

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Meet the Creator Economy’s Version of LinkedIn

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

LinkedIn hasn’t caught on with Gen Z—in fact, 96% rarely use their existing account.

Considering 25% of young people want to be full-time content creators and most influencers aren’t active on LinkedIn, traditional networking sites aren’t likely to meet these needs.

Enter CreatorLand.

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This Week in ‘Raises’: Total Network Services Gains $9M, Autio Secures $5.9M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

This Week in ‘Raises’: Total Network Services Gains $9M, Autio Secures $5.9M
This Week in ‘Raises’:

It has been a slow week in funding, but a local decentralized computing network managed to land $9 million to accelerate deployment of its new product called Universal Communication Identifier (UCID™). Another local company that secured capital included Kevin Costner’s location-based audio storytelling platform and the funding will go toward expanding the app’s content library and expanding into additional regions in the United States.

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