A close-up look at Maxar’s SHA robotic arm on the bottom of the Perseverance rover. Photo credit: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“Could life exist on Mars?”

The answer may be in the Martian dirt.

Last month, Maxar’s Sample Handling Assembly (SHA) robotic arm successfully stored the first rock sample on Mars, sealing it inside an airtight tube for retrieval in the future. A vital component of NASA’s Perseverance rover, the sample caching system will enable the future Mars Sample Return program to bring the rock specimens back to Earth. These samples are key to our understanding of the red planet, as astrobiologists search for signs of microscopic life.

A sample of Martian rock is seen inside its titanium container in this image taken by the rover’s Sampling and Caching System Camera (known as CacheCam). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

As one of the new technologies selected for the Perseverance rover, Maxar’s SHA is a central part of the Adaptive Caching Assembly. The SHA robotic arm is under the front end of the rover, and it can manipulate, assess, encapsulate, store and release collected Martian soil and rock samples. This subsystem was designed by Maxar uniquely for the rover’s sampling activities.

As Perseverance explores Mars, the Maxar-built robotic SHA arm will manipulate, assess, encapsulate, store and release collected Martian soil and rock samples. Image: NASA JPL-Caltech.

In addition to the SHA robotic arm, Maxar also built Perseverance’s camera focus system, part of the Sherloc Instrument and Watson Imager, which supports this soil-collecting mission by enabling the rover to identify promising samples on the surface of Mars.

“The success of the SHA’s first collection on Mars demonstrates this first-of-its kind technology, strengthening Maxar’s position as a leader in space robotics,” said Lucy Condakchian, General Manager of Robotics at Maxar. “The immense challenge of executing sampling and caching on another planet has allowed Maxar to make great strides in robotics engineering, and the opportunity to continue our long-standing partnership with NASA for this historic mission inspires Maxar to push the limits of what is possible in space.”

Perseverance’s SHA robotic arm and camera focus system come from more than 20 years of experience in space robotics. Maxar has built five other robotic arms for previous Mars missions: the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers and the Phoenix and InSight landers.

Learn more about Maxar robotics.

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