¶The First Rocket from Mars. Two weeks ago, Lockheed Martin won a $194M contract to build the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) for the upcoming joint NASA-ESA Mars sample return campaign. The cost-plus contract covers the development and manufacture of 10 test and flight-ready MAVs over the next six years culminating in what will likely be, barring other unforeseen entrants, the first rocket launched on another planet (as opposed to a moon, comet, or asteroid). Lockheed will be supported by Northrop Grumman, who will build the MAV’s solid propulsion motors—updated STAR 15 & 20 solid rocket motors, originally developed in the early 70s, which will need to survive a multi-year cold soak along with their propellant. To keep propellant grains above -40° C, the 2.8-meter long MAV will be housed in “the igloo,” an insulated dome blanketed with CO2, which will be heated by solar-powered electric heaters in 16 separately-instrumented heating zones (paper). The igloo will have to open for samples to be loaded into the MAV, but must also stay above minimum temperature levels, so loading may take multiple operations by the mission’s Sample Retrieval Rover. Along with the thirty-odd Martian sample tubes collected by (and optionally delivered by) Percy, the canister will include 5 pre-sealed blanks to help scientists determine which molecules are from Mars and which are originally from Earth. Once loaded, the MAV—with a total weight of around 400 kg—will carry 16 kg of payload, including ~470 grams of actual samples, into Martian orbit for the ESA-led hybrid chemical/solar-electric Earth Return Orbiter to snag and carry home. In order to survive the MAV’s ignition, the Sample Retrieval Lander will yeet the rocket into the air with a spring just before it ignites. (Due to the lower Martian gravity, the MAV will get significantly more hang time than it would on Earth.) All this is scheduled to kick off with the lander/rover/MAV combo launching NET 2026. Sample retrieval and launch to Martian orbit could take around 13 months after arrival, but samples won’t actually make it back to Earth until sometime in the first half of the 30s.