[meteorite-list] ESA's Mars Sample Return Container

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2013 12:26:45 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201310291926.r9TJQjkU012797_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Martian Box of Delights
European Space Agency
October 29, 2013


This spherical container has been engineered to house the most scientifically
valuable cargo imaginable: samples brought back from the Red Planet.

Still probably many years in the future and most likely international
in nature, a Mars sample-return mission is one of the most challenging
space ventures possible for robotic exploration.

A robust, multifunctional sample container is an essential link in the
long technical chain necessary to make such a mission successful.

Weighing less than 5 kg, this 23 cm-diameter sphere is designed to keep
martian samples in pristine condition at under ?10?C throughout their
long journey back to Earth.

First, the sample container must be landed on Mars, along with a rover
to retrieve a cache of samples carefully selected by a previous mission,
according to current mission scenarios.

The container seen here hosts 11 sealable receptacles, including one set
aside for a sample of martian air.

Then, once filled, it will be launched back up to Mars orbit. There it
will remain for several days until a rendezvous spacecraft captures it.
To ease the process of rendezvous, the sample container carries a radio
emitter and retroreflectors for close-up laser ranging.
Before being returned to Earth, the container will be enclosed in another
larger bio-sealed vessel to ensure perfect containment of any returned
martian material. This container will then be returned to Earth for a
high-speed entry.

"Because there is the potential, however remote, that the samples contain
alien life, we have to comply with strict planetary protection protocols
not to bring them into contact with Earth's biosphere," explained Benoit
Laine, Head of ESA's Thermal Analysis and Verification section, who oversaw
the sample container project.

"In effect, the parachute technology is not reliable enough - which means
the container must be able to withstand a crash landing without parachute.

"The mission design therefore does not include any parachute, and the
capsule literally falls from Mars onto Earth, decelerated only by the
pressure on the heatshield through Earth's atmosphere, and by the impact
at landing."

While the sample container is a proof-of-concept design rather than actual
mission hardware, it is fully functional and has undergone testing in
simulated thermal conditions, including a 400 g shock test.

"This challenging project drew on the expertise of multiple ESA specialists,"
added Benoit. "It incorporates mechanical systems covering structural,
thermal and mechanisms engineering but also communications, antennas and
power - it has of course to incorporate a highly reliable battery."

The prime contractor for the project, which was supported through ESA's
Aurora programme, was French company Mecano I&D. Activities to prepare
for a Mars sample mission continue, including a refinement of the sample
container design, coordinated by the future missions preparatory office
of ESA's Directorate of Science and Robotic Exploration.
Received on Tue 29 Oct 2013 03:26:45 PM PDT

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