Independent review committee praises ambitious plan to bring samples from Mars to Earth

Earth Return Orbiter Artist's Impression

Artist’s impression of ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter. Credit: ESA / ATG Medialab

An ambitious campaign by NASA and ESA to collect samples from the Red Planet and return them to Earth has been praised by an independent review board created to review the multi-year Mars missions.

The Mars Sample Return campaign envisions NASA and ESA launching multiple missions to the Red Planet to collect samples, launch them into space and return them safely to Earth. NASA released the report from a Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board, which it established to evaluate the status of the multi-year international partnership, along with NASA’s response to the report’s recommendations.

Earth Return Orbiter orbiting Mars

Artist’s impression of ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter orbiting Mars. Credit: ESA / ATG Medialab

After examining plans for one of the most ambitious endeavors humanity has ever undertaken, the Council concluded that the space agencies are ready for the challenge after decades of scientific and technical advances in Mars exploration.

The board recognized NASA-ESA’s long-standing collaboration in robotics and human space exploration as an asset to the robust campaign and praised the agencies’ work to date.

“The independent review has provided strong support for Mars Sample Return, which is great news for the campaign,” said David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration. “It reinforces our shared vision of providing scientists of the world with pristine pieces of the Red Planet to study with laboratory tools and techniques that we could never bring to Mars.

“Following the example of the Orion International Space Station and the future Gateway around the Moon, we will strengthen the partnership of our agencies at the interface of science and technology. ESA will carefully review the report’s recommendations and agree with NASA on how to reflect them in our collaboration. “

Assessment board

NASA established this Independent Review Board to ensure that the highly anticipated mission is successfully positioned. It is the first independent review of a NASA scientific mission. The board was made up of 10 experienced leaders and experts from scientific and technical fields, and included interviews with experts from NASA and ESA, as well as in industry and academia. The Board made 44 recommendations regarding the scope and management of the program, the technical approach, the planning and the funding profile.

Mars Sample Return Overview

Artist’s impression of the Mars Sample Return missions, including NASA’s Mars Ascent Vehicle, ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter, the Mars sample bus and the Earth entry capsule. Credit: ESA / ATG Medialab

Mars Sample Return

The campaign will require multiple advanced space vehicles, the first of which is the NASA Perseverance rover, which is already halfway to Mars. Perseverance is an advanced sampling system, with a core drill and sample tubes that are some of the cleanest hardware ever sent to space.

Example of a Fetch Rover infographic

What is Sample Fetch Rover? Credit: ESA

Once on Mars, Perseverance will store rock and soil samples in its collection tubes. It will leave some of them on the surface of Mars for ESA’s Sample Fetch Rover to collect and, using ESA robotic arms, take them to a NASA Mars Ascent Vehicle, which will launch them into orbit around Mars.

Earth Return Orbiter Infographic

What is Earth Return Orbiter? Credit: ESA

Once in orbit, ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter encounters the monsters more than 70 million km from Earth in orbit around Mars and takes them in a highly secure containment capsule provided by NASA for return to Earth in the 2030s. to land.

Mars Sample Return Overview Infographic

Overview of the ESA-NASA Mars Sample Return mission. Credit: ESA-K. Oldenburg

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