Text Size

Mars Sample Return Utilizing Next Generation Mars Landers

Principal Investigator Carol Stoker, M.S.

We are studying mission architecture for Mars sample return. The goal is to explore architecture solutions that return samples to Earth with a single Mars launch. We will examine a next generation lander under development by Space X corp. that is capable of delivering a 1 MT payload to the Mars surface as the landing system. The landed mission elements include a spacecraft stack consisting of a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) that collectively will carry a sample canister from Mars back to Earth orbit. The MAV will use a one or two stage chemical propellant rocket to achieve trans-earth injection, where it will place the ERV en route to Earth. The study will consider the trade between chemical and electric propulsion for the ERV, and between sending the ERV on direct return to Earth vs Mars Orbit Rendezvous. The lander payload will include sample collection hardware such as an arm, drill, or small rover. Packaging of the MAV/ ERV and sample collection hardware will be a key study product. The study will examine the following elements:

  • Design of the MAV /ERV stack with mass and performance uncertainty < 10%, including a sensitivity analysis of the design to technology performance.
  • Recommended technology investment strategy to reduce cost risk to MSR architecture of MAV performance.
  • Accommodation analysis of the MAV/ERV vehicle in a capsule form factor lander.
  • Accommodation analysis of the sample collection hardware in the remaining volume of the capsule. The type of sample collection system possible depends on what landed payload mass is available after accommodating MAV/ERV. Options include (in order of increasing mass) a sampling arm, a drill, and a rover. Each of these has unique accommodation requirements.
  • Analysis of how to accomplish planetary protection within this mission architecture.

The final product will be a report detailing the results of the analysis.