[meteorite-list] Britain Challenges NASA In Race For Mars Rock Sample

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:44:43 2004
Message-ID: <200103261759.JAA21991_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Britain challenges Nasa in race for Mars rock sample
By David Derbyshire
Electronic Telegraph (United Kingdom)
March 26, 2001

BRITISH space scientists are proposing an ambitious project to send an
unmanned probe to Mars and return with a piece of the planet.

The mission would pave the way for the most detailed research yet into the
history of Mars and whether it was once home to life. If the proposals get
the backing of the European Space Agency, the team will bring the first
freshly-mined Martian rock to Earth years before Nasa.

Dozens of British scientists met last week at the Royal Society in London to
discuss the plans, which are being assembled by Prof Colin Pillinger, a
space scientist at the Open University and the brains behind Beagle 2, the
British probe that is due to land on Mars in 2003.

Prof Pillinger said the project would be far cheaper than Nasa's proposed $1
billion (700 million) missions and could shed light on the life question.
Instead of taking miniaturised instruments to Mars to analyse rocks on the
planet, it made sense also to bring samples back where they could be studied
by laboratories, he said.

He said: "If you go for the sort of exotic approach with rovers travelling
over the surface of Mars to find the perfect place for drilling, then it
becomes technically more and more difficult. But if you you don't care
exactly where you land, then you could do it by 2009."

Plans are still sketchy, but will probably involve a probe about twice the
size of Beagle launched from an ESA rocket. The probe would travel to Mars
in 2009 attached to a larger orbiting craft. As the orbiter approached the
planet, the 130lb probe would separate and enter the Martian atmosphere.

Instead of a controlled descent, the probe would be slowed by parachutes
until it was a few hundred feet above the surface. Then it would drop to the
surface, cushioned by inflated bags. An arm on the probe would drill into
the ground to remove a three to nine ounce core of earth and rock which
would be placed inside a canister in the probe.

It would then be blasted off the planet into a low orbit by a small rocket
engine. The orbiter could be programmed to detect a homing signal, make its
way to the canister and use a laser range control to grapple it.

The orbiter and its payload would then wait two years for the right
planetary conditions to return home. One plan is for the sample to arrive at
the International Space Station where it could be picked up by the next
space shuttle. Unlike Nasa's planned landings, where a craft would make a
careful, controlled descent to the surface, the British plan relies on good
luck to find a suitable sight for drilling.

Prof Pillinger said: "What we would like is the Holy Grail which is
sedimentary rock, rock that has been formed in water. Nasa are obsessed by
rovers, but missions must be driven by science not just technology." Prof
David Southwood, the new director of ESA's scientific programmes, said the
plans were at their earliest stages.
Received on Mon 26 Mar 2001 12:59:25 PM PST

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