A new decade of European exploration – to the Moon and Mars
Airbus to design and build the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) for Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign
ERO will reach Mars orbit, capture orbiting samples launched from the Red Planet and bring them back to Earth
TOULOUSE, 14 October 2020 (Airbus PR) – Airbus has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as prime contractor for the Mars Sample Return’s Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) – the first ever spacecraft to bring samples back to Earth from Mars. Mars Sample Return (MSR) is a joint ESA-NASA campaign and the next step in the exploration of Mars. ERO and the Sample Fetch Rover (SFR) are the two main European elements of MSR, both are set to be designed and built by Airbus.
A manipulating arm, referred to as the Sample Transfer Arm (STA), that will transfer the samples from the SFR to the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), is the third European contribution to the MSR program. The value of the ERO contract is €491 million [$574.8 million].
NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) faces a series of managerial, financial and personnel challenges as it prepares to conduct a series of ever more ambitious missions to the moon and planets, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has established a Mars Sample Return Program Independent Review Board to proactively assist with analysis of current plans and goals for one of the most difficult missions humanity has ever undertaken: the return of samples from another planet to study on Earth.
PARIS (CNES PR) — On Thursday 30 July, the Mars 2020 mission successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop an Atlas V launcher. For the Perseverance rover carrying the French-U.S. SuperCam instrument, the long voyage to the red planet has begun. The mission is scheduled to land on Mars on 18 February 2021.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, a contract to support all phases of current and future planetary protection missions to ensure compliance with planetary protection standards.
The SETI Institute will work with NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection (OPP) to provide technical reviews and recommendations, validate biological cleanliness on flight projects, provide training for NASA and its partners, as well as develop guidelines for implementation of NASA requirements, and disseminate information to stakeholders and the public. The role of OPP is to promote responsible exploration of the solar system by protecting both Earth and mission destinations from biological contamination.
PARIS (ESA PR) — If you could bring something back from Mars to Earth, what would you choose? This question is becoming reality, as ESA opens a call for scientists to join a NASA team working to determine which martian samples should be collected and stored by the Perseverance rover set to launch this Summer.
The leadership council for Mars 2020 science added two new members who represent the interests of scientists destined to handle and study the first samples from Red Planet.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — In the fall of 2019, the Mars 2020 rover team welcomed ten members to serve as Returned Sample Science Participating Scientists. Scheduled to launch in July 2020 as NASA’s next step in exploration of the Red Planet, the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life, characterizing the planet’s climate and geology, and will be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock core and dust samples. Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA (in conjunction with the European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
Determined to land astronauts on the moon in time for the 2024 presidential election, the Trump Administration has proposed boosting NASA’s budget by 12 percent, an increase that includes $3.37 billion program for a human lander.
The $25.2 billion plan for fiscal year 2021 is $2.69 billion above the current spending level. More than half the amount, $12.95 billion, would be spent on human space operations in Earth orbit and preparing for missions to the moon.
How the proposal will fair in Congress is unclear. To boost Artemis spending, the Administration has proposed a number of cuts that Congress has rejected in previous Trump budgets. Those reductions include:
NASA is advertising for a director for its Mars Sample Return (MSR) program. The position, located at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, would pay $182,424 to $188,066 per year.
“The incumbent serves as the Director of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) Program within the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), reporting to the SMD Associate Administrator (AA),” the job posting states. “The incumbent is responsible for implementation of all MSR program activities, beginning with mission formulation and continuing through design, development, launch, and mission operations. The incumbent also assesses and evaluates the total flight program design, development, and operational activities.”
Three years after the last ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, held in Lucerne, Switzerland, government representatives from the 22 Member States met in Seville, Spain, on 27 and 28 November 2019 and committed a total of almost 14.4 billion euro [$15.87 billion] for space programmes over the next few years.
Germany is contributing 3.3 billion euro [$3.6 billion] to ESA programmes focusing on Earth observation, telecommunications, technological advancement and commercialisation / NewSpace.
At 22.9 percent, Germany is now ESA’s largest contributor, followed by France (18.5 percent, 2.66 billion euro), Italy (15.9 percent, 2.28 billion euro) and the United Kingdom (11.5 percent, 1.65 billion euro).
The ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level is the highest political decision-making body, and it defines the content and financial framework for ESA’s space programmes every two to three years.
SEVILLE, Spain (UKSA PR) — The UK Space Agency has today (28 November) announced it will invest £374m [$411.75 million] per year with the European Space Agency (ESA) to deliver international space programmes over the next five years.
The UK is one of the founding members of ESA, an inter-governmental organisation established in 1975 to promote cooperation in space research, technology and applications development. ESA is independent of the EU, bringing together countries across Europe and around the world.
Membership enables the UK to collaborate with space agencies across the world on projects like the International Space Station and the ExoMars programme to send a UK-built rover to search for signs of life on Mars.
Ministers approved funding lunar Gateway, space station operations until 2030, Mars Sample Return and Hera asteroid missions
SEVILLE, Spain (ESA PR) — ESA’s Council at Ministerial Level, Space19+, has concluded in Seville, Spain, with the endorsement of the most ambitious plan to date for the future of ESA and the whole European space sector. The meeting brought together ministers with responsibility for space activities in Europe, along with Canada and observers from the EU.
The Member States were asked to approve a comprehensive set of programmes to secure Europe’s independent access to and use of space in the 2020s, boost Europe’s growing space economy, and make breakthrough discoveries about Earth, our Solar System and the Universe beyond, all the while making the responsible choice to strengthen the efforts we are making to secure and protect our planet.
NASA faces a number of technical challenges to overcome for is Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. One can get a good sense of what those obstacles are by looking at the Small Business Innovative Research projects that the agency selected to fund earlier this month.
Below are summaries of the projects that were selected. They are broken down into key phases of the mission: aerocapture, entry, descent and landing; sample collection and surface operations; planetary ascent; and orbital rendezvous with the return vehicle.
The National Research Council has released a report calling for the strictest of quarantine procedures relating to any soil and rock samples returned from Mars.
The Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions report recommends that “samples returned from Mars by spacecraft should be contained and treated as though potentially hazardous until proven otherwise.”