To deliver soil from Mars, a total of three separate spacecraft will be required.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has signed a contract with the American aircraft corporation Lockheed Martin for $194 million to create a special Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) launcher that will deliver samples of the soil and air of Mars to Earth.

“NASA has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin, Colorado, to create the Mars Ascent Vehicle launcher, a small and light rocket for sending rocks, sediments, and atmosphere from the surface of the Red Planet,” the agency said in a statement released on Tuesday. MAV will be the first rocket launched from another planet, as well as “an important part of the campaign to extract samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover and deliver them to Earth.” The contract amount will be $194 million; its implementation period is calculated for six years.

To deliver soil samples from Mars, a total of three separate spacecraft will be required. The first will be the Perseverance rover, which landed in the area of the Jezero crater on February 19, 2021. Using a 2.1 m long remote manipulator, the rover will collect soil samples and leave some of them on the surface of the planet.

Then another rover, sent by the European Space Agency (ESA), will have to pick up these samples and place them in the Mars Ascent Vehicle, which will put them into orbit.

At the final stage, the ESA Earth Return Orbiter (“Orbiter for Returning to Earth”) will pick up from the orbit of the Red Planet and deliver it back to Earth in the 2030s. Analysis of these samples may provide an answer to the question of the existence of life on Mars.