Press Release

EADS Space Defines Mars Sample Return Mission

By SpaceRef Editor
April 2, 2004
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EADS Space Defines Mars Sample Return Mission

Following award of the [EURO] 600k study contract by ESA, EADS Space has
made significant progress in completing the first definition of a
European Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. While EADS Astrium is
defining the overall mission and the spacecraft, EADS Space
Transportation is responsible for the re-entry systems and a ‘Mars
Ascent Vehicle’ – a small rocket to carry the precious sample up
through the Martian atmosphere.

The team at EADS Astrium, Stevenage is currently preparing for the Mid
Term Review where two very different designs will have to be reduced
to one.

In the first concept the launch vehicle lifts the sample from the
surface of Mars and docks with the Earth Return Vehicle. In the second
concept the launch vehicle releases the sample container into a low
Mars orbit and the Earth Return Vehicle uses a capture mechanism to
perform the rendezvous. The selection of the rendezvous concept has a
significant impact on the overall mass, cost and complexity of the

Marie-Claire Perkinson, Senior Systems Engineer at EADS Astrium,
Stevenage, leading the study said. “Our industrial team, which
includes EADS Space in France; Galileo Avionica in Italy, Sener in
Spain and Utopia Consultancies in Germany has done a great job so far
in proposing the two exciting concepts. We now have to select the best
solution and then, once ESA has raised the appropriate support and
funds for the implementation of the mission, launch could be as early
as 2011.”


European astronauts may land on Mars one day, but getting them there
and safely returning them to Earth will involve many steps and
numerous technical challenges in propulsion, structures, computers
and software. It will require sophisticated spacecraft to escape from
Earth’s orbit; fly to Mars, survive atmospheric entry and landing;
operate on the surface; take-off; return to Earth and then finally get
the crew back on terra firma. Long before this can be accomplished
some key technologies must be demonstrated. The best way to do this is
to fly a robotic mission with a scaled-down version of the eventual
manned mission.

This is exactly the goal of Mars Sample Return, the second flagship
mission of the European Space Agency’s Aurora planetary exploration
initiative and one of the most eagerly awaited future space missions
for the planetary scientists.

Because Martian winds have transported dust across the planet’s
surface over millions of years, the MSR sample could include
particles from many different sources, representing a wide variety of
rock types and ages, like grains of sand on a beach. Each granule
could offer completely different insights into the rich geologic past
of the Red Planet. Scientists could now “look at the sample as if
each grain were a rock,” said Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open
University. This would build on the decades of research already
carried out on lunar rock samples.

EADS Space has used its unique heritage in building launch vehicles,
planetary spacecraft and re-entry systems, combined with a deep
understanding of the science goals to win the ESA mission study.
ESA’s Aurora Project Manager Bruno Gardini said “The Mars Sample
Return mission is one of the most challenging missions ever
considered by ESA. Not only does it include many new technologies
and four or five different spacecraft, but it is also a mission of
tremendous scientific importance and the first robotic mission
with a similar profile to a possible human expedition to Mars.”


Marie-Claire Perkinson will be speaking about ESA’s proposed Mars
Sample Return mission on Friday 2 April during the Royal
Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting at the Open
University in Milton Keynes.


For more information, please contact:

Alistair Scott


Tel: +44 (0)1438-77-3698

Mob. +44 (0)7887-826264

RAS National Astronomy Meeting press room (2 April only)

+44 (0)1908-659726 +44 (0)1908-659729 +44 (0)1908-659730

SpaceRef staff editor.