Mars Sample Return is a joint collaborative project of ESA and NASA aimed at bringing to Earth several surface samples from the Red Planet. The mission is considered a major milestone to enable Mars human exploration, because it will allow scientists to better understand the characteristics of Mars and, based on this information, to design the infrastructure that will receive the first astronauts travelling to the Red Planet.
Mars Sample Return has remained a top priority of the international Mars science community for several decades and in April 2018, ESA and NASA publicly signed a joint statement of intent to study complimentary mission options with a shared objective of returning samples from Mars to Earth for scientific research.
Different architecture options have been evaluated along time, and the currently selected one envisages the coordination of three spacecraft launched between 2020 and 2026:
- M2020 will deliver a rover on the Red Planet surface to sample Mars terrain and atmosphere and to then cache the samples tubes in dedicated depots.
- The Sample Return Lander (SRL) is comprised of three elements; a surface platform, a Sample Fetch Rover (SFR), and a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). Once deployed to the surface, the SFR will traverse toward the depot(s), collect the sample tubes, and return to the lander platform. The sample tubes will then be transferred into an Orbiting Sample (OS) containment element, and loaded on-board the MAV. The MAV launches the OS into Mars orbit, where it is to be captured by the ERO mission.
- The Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) will detect, rendezvous with, and capture the OS, before biosealing it and transferring it safely to the Earth Re-entry Capsule (ERC) that will be released by ERO on an Earth entry trajectory.
ESA is currently assessing the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), responsible for locating and capturing a container of Mars samples, collected and launched into Low Mars Orbit by previous missions, and ensuring their safe return to Earth. In 2018, ESA awarded the Mars Sample Return – Earth Return Orbiter (MSR-ERO) Phase A/B1 study to an international consortium of Thales Alenia Space, Deimos Space, GMV, and OHB.
Elecnor Deimos is responsible of ERO mission analysis, which is of capital importance to define the detailed mission timelines, highly influenced by the propulsion system capabilities, and to evaluate the mission feasibility in the proposed time frame. The combined used of chemical and electrical propulsion system has been assessed, and a hybrid solution has finally been proposed leading to a very complex trajectories optimisation analysis to guarantee the fulfilment of all mission requirements. Deimos Space proposal of including an Earth fly-by in the outbound trajectory has been critical to guarantee the mission feasibility of both baseline and backup scenario.
MSR campaign (ERO mission within the blue lines)