New Artist Concept for NASA / ESA’s Sample Return Campaign to Mars

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This illustration shows a concept for a set of future robots working together to transport samples from the surface of Mars collected by NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover. Credit: NASA / ESA / JPL-Caltech

This illustration shows a concept for a set of future robots working together to transport samples from the surface of ">March collected by NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover.

">Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) are strengthening concepts for a sample return mission to Mars that would seek to take samples of Martian rocks and other material collected and stored in sealed tubes by the Mars Perseverance rover of NASA and return the sealed tubes to Earth.

According to the current concept, NASA would deliver a Martian lander near the Jezero crater, where Perseverance (left) will have collected and cached samples. The Sample Retrieval Lander (right) would carry a NASA rocket (Mars Ascent Vehicle), as well as ESA’s Sample Fetch Rover (center) which is roughly the size of the Opportunity Mars rover. The recovery rover would collect the cached samples and return them to the lander for transfer to the ascent vehicle; additional samples could also be delivered directly by Perseverance. The ascension vehicle would then launch a special container containing the samples into Martian orbit. ESA would put a spacecraft into orbit around Mars before the launch of the ascension vehicle. This spacecraft would meet and capture the samples in orbit before returning them to Earth. NASA would provide the capture and containment payload module for the orbiter.

Vehicle for smoothing a sample approaches Mars

Vehicle for smoothing a sample is approaching March (artist’s concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The artist’s concept above for a proposed Mars Sample Return Mission describes a series of six steps (A through F) in the spacecraft’s landing on Mars. NASA and the European Space Agency are collaborating on mission proposals to collect samples of Martian rocks and bring them back to Earth after 2020. This illustration represents preliminary concepts, not a finished design.

The series begins at the top left, where the aeroshell capsule is still attached to the cruise stage that provided the power and maneuvering during the journey from Earth to Mars.

After jettisoning the cruise stage, the aeroshell uses friction with the Martian atmosphere to decelerate. The aeroshell protects the other components of the flight system (locked inside) from the heat generated when diving in the upper atmosphere.

In the third step described, the parachute of the spacecraft further slows the descent.

After the separation of the parachute and the aeroshell, retro-rockets on the descent stage fire to control the speed of the final approach to the ground.

The descent stage begins to lower the undercarriage onto a flange. The timing of crucial steps during this final approach is based on radar data regarding the altitude and speed of the spacecraft.

F. The undercarriage – carrying a rover and an ascent vehicle – lands, the connecting cables are cut, and the descent stage takes off.

After landing, the rover would deliver previously cached samples to the ascension vehicle, which would then lift the samples from the surface of Mars for an orbit rendezvous with a spacecraft that would take the samples to Earth.

Example of a return landing mission on Mars for a short stay

Landing on Mars for a short stay (artist’s concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The artist’s concept above for a proposed Mars sample return mission depicts a rocket-powered descent stage lowering a sample collection rover and ascent vehicle to the surface. The ascension vehicle is in the large cylinder, protecting it from the harsh Martian environment. The rover, with solar panels in the stowed position, sits to its right. The ascension vehicle would receive samples of Martian rocks which must be collected by a previous mission and recovered by the rover. Then it would launch the samples into Martian orbit for a rendezvous with a spacecraft that would transport them to Earth.

Mars Sample Return Lander Touchdown

Mars Sample Return Lander touchdown (artist concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

In the illustration above of an example of a return to Mars mission concept, a lander carrying a fetch rover lands on the surface of Mars.

Mars sample return lander with deployed solar panels

Mars Sample Return Lander with deployed solar panels (artist’s concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The above illustration of a lander concept from a Mars sample return mission shows a spacecraft after landing on the Red Planet. With its solar planes fully deployed, the spacecraft is ready to begin surface operations.

Collect Rover approaching sample tubes

Fetch Rover approaching the sample tubes (artist’s concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The illustration above shows a concept of what a rover could look like collecting rock and soil samples on Mars back to Earth. The sample tube in this image is believed to have been left on the surface by a previous mission, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.

Robotic arm transferring tubes from Fetch Rover to Lander

Robotic arm transferring tubes from Fetch Rover to Lander (artist’s concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

In the illustration above of a concept of a sample return mission to Mars, a robotic arm transfers samples of Martian rock and soil from a rover to a lander.

Mars sample return orbit sample container concept template

Mars sample return orbit sample container concept template. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The image above shows a conceptual model of NASA’s Orbiting Sample Container, which will contain tubes of Martian rock and soil samples that will be returned to Earth via a sample return campaign to Mars. To the right is the cover; at the bottom left is a model of the sample tube. The sample container will help keep the contents under about 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) to help preserve the material of Mars in its most natural state.

NASA Mars Ascension Vehicle

Launch of the Mars Ascent vehicle with samples (artist concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The illustration above shows a concept of how NASA’s Mars Ascension Vehicle, carrying tubes containing rock and soil samples, could be launched from the surface of Mars during a stage of the Mars sample return mission.

Mars Ascent Vehicle Deploying Sample Container into Orbit

Mars Ascent Vehicle deploying a sample container into orbit (artist’s concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

As part of a sample return mission to Mars, a rocket will transport a container of sample tubes containing samples of Martian rock and soil orbiting Mars and release it for recovery by another spacecraft . The illustration above shows a concept for a Mars ascension vehicle (left) releasing a sample container (right) above the Martian surface.

Special delivery from March to Earth

Special delivery from Mars to Earth (artist’s concept). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The above artist’s concept for a Mars Sample Return Mission proposal depicts the separation of an Earth entry vehicle, carrying a container of Martian rock samples, from the main spacecraft which would have transported it from Martian orbit almost to Earth.


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