RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A lot has been said about the success of the Mars Perseverance Rover. We’ve been awed by the images it has sent back to earth. We’ve also waited to hear more about what the samples it has collected tell us about Mars. But we need to get those samples back to Earth.

Durham-based Sierra Space developed the descent brake mechanism that kept the Perserverance from crashing into the red planet. Now they’re working on components for the next mission including a Mars orbiter and its lander.

“Which is actually what would land on the surface of Mars, be able to collect those samples, and launch them into orbit. The orbiter would then take those samples and prepare them for the return back to Earth,” said Jeff Mobley, Vice President of Programs at Sierra Space. “So, lots of hardware. I think we’re working on five different designs with 13 different applications to support those two, the lander and the orbiter.”

The above video provided by NASA shows testing methods underway for the sample retrieval lander.

The project is led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech. JPL is a research and development lab federally funded by NASA.

The work on the next mission to Mars continues as yet another odyssey is underway. Next year the spacecraft Europa Clipper is scheduled to make its way to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The hope is that it will determine whether Europa’s ocean could be hospitable for some form of life.

Sierra Space developed the solar actuators for the Europa Clipper.

“What we shipped just a couple of weeks ago is the solar array drive actuators. So that’s the actuators that position the solar arrays and transmit the power from the solar rays back to the spacecraft. I know this is a basketball rich area, so if you were to plot the Europa Clipper spacecraft down in the middle of a basketball court, the solar rays on that would extend the full length of the basketball court. So, about 1/2 court each solar ray, some very large solar rays,” said Mobley.

Further, Mobley said it is one of the largest solar ray drive actuators the company has fabricated.

“And it’s just great to finally deliver that hardware that’s in support of that 2024 launch,” said Mobley.

That’s not the only delivery. The Dream Chaser is a spaceplane that will supply cargo to the International Space Station.  

“By the end of the year, we’ll be ready for launch, and we’ve got a lot of hardware coming out of Durham to support that,” Mobley said.

That hardware will include flight control actuators controlling the flight services, the mechanisms that fold and unfold the wings that point to solar rays on it. And the company is also developing a commercial ecosystem in space with space stations and space planes.

A lot of the work on these hardware is happening right in Durham as well.

“I’m a Durham native, NC State graduate. And so, it’s great to be able to work on this kind of stuff here in North Carolina. I’m also on the North Carolina Space Grant Advisory Board and we don’t presently have a massive aerospace presence in North Carolina, so it’s great when we have opportunities to work on these things because it is a growing industry and we expect to see space in North Carolina continue to grow,” Mobley said.