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Mars Sample Return

Flyaway

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While neither NASA nor the European Space Agency has yet to give formal approval, or funding, for missions to return samples from Mars, both agencies are taking steps to refine plans for what those missions will be.

Those plans, discussed at a Mars science conference and working group meeting last week, would involve two launches in 2026 to send spacecraft to fetch samples collected by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and return them to Earth in 2031.

 

Flyaway

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We could have had a sample return mission as far back as the 1970s.

I thought the claim is we didn’t have the technologies and sufficient info about Mars to do it back then.
 

Grey Havoc

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Nope. There was a plan in the early 1970s (around 1974/75 I think) to use a Viking lander as the basis for a follow up mission to Viking 1 and 2 that would have returned soil samples to earth via a rocket to a orbiter that would have returned to earth, where the samples would have in turn been delivered via re-entry capsule. NASA may have been planning mid-air retrieval for that phase but I'm not sure.

There was even earlier plans for sample return missions on both sides of the Iron Curtain. For example from 1966 (as part of a manned Mars flyby intended to be launched in September 1975):
The mission profile involved a single Saturn V launch with an Apollo Command Service Module, the flyby spacecraft, and an MS-IVB stage. The MS-IVB was a modification of the basic S-IVB, with stretched tanks and more internal foam insulation, allowing the stage to remain for sixty hours in low earth orbit before firing. The CSM, with four crew, would undock from the stack, transpose, and dock with the flyby spacecraft.
The flyby spacecraft itself consisted, from fore to aft, of a Mid-Course Propulsion Module with four engines; an Earth Entry Module (a modified Apollo CM, which would also serve as a radiation shelter); and a two-level Mission Module, 4.27 m in diameter, providing living quarters on level 1, and a control console and wardroom on level 2. Exterior to the MM would be a manipulator arm; a biology lab; a 1-m diameter telescope; an airlock for spacewalks equipped with a the CSM docking unit; and a 5.8 m diameter antenna. 185 square meters of solar panels would produce 22 kW at earth and 8.5 kW at Mars and 4.5 kW in the asteroid belt.

The mission scenario involved four Saturn V launches. Launch 1 would orbit the crew and the spacecraft, and launches 2 to 4 would place three MS-IVB's into earth orbit. In order to make this many launches in the short 60 hour storage life of the MS-IVB's, a third Saturn V launch pad, LC-39C, would have to built at the Kennedy Space Center. The Apollo CSM would power the spacecraft to a series of rendezvous and docking maneuvers. After all three MS-IVB stages had been docked in tandem, the Apollo CSM would undock and redock with the side airlock port. Following checkout and testing, the temporary forward docking structure and the Apollo CSM would be jettisoned.

The three stages would be fired in sequence to send the spacecraft toward Mars. This would all have to occur in a launch window extending from 5 September to October 1975. The coast to Mars would take 130 days, with flyby occurring between 23 January and 4 February 1976.

Three 45 kg impact probes, a 4500 kg orbiter, a 567 kg lander, and a 5450 kg Mars Surface Sample Returner would be released toward Mars. The MSSR would return a 1 kg sample to the spacecraft, where it would be studied during the coast back to earth.

The MSSR would be an unmanned versions of the FLEM Mars flyby lander. MSSR would be released weeks before the flyby, land, but then rocket off the Martian surface with the sample 5 minutes after closest approach of the flyby spacecraft. 17 minutes later it would be in solar orbit, a few kilometers ahead of the flyby spacecraft. The flyby would rendezvous with it and snare it with a boom-mounted docking ring, which would then move it to the lateral docking port. The return coast would take the crew out into the asteroid belt, allowing studies to be made there, before returning to earth on 18 July 1977.

EDIT:
 
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Grey Havoc

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A Soviet project from the early 1970s:
 
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Grey Havoc

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hzxjhiqebphytiimolak.jpg

ORIGINAL CAPTION: The Martian Ascent Vehicle blasting off with its cargo. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
 

Grey Havoc

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A future mission to return samples of Martian rock and soil is currently under consideration by NASA, in partnership with the European Space Agency. Perseverance will identify and collect samples, and leave them at a designated location on the Martian surface in sealed tubes. A new spacecraft would land on the Martian surface and act as a launch facility to return the sample to Earth for in-depth analysis. This mission is currently in the conceptual phase.
mars-ascent.jpg

Concept render of a rock and soil sample launching from Mars to Earth - via NASA/JPL-Caltech
 

fredymac

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The proposed schedule would be to launch the sample return lander in 2026. It would house the sample ascent rocket and European built sample fetch rover which would recover the samples from the JPL 2020 Rover. A European built orbital return vehicle would then take the samples back to Earth.

This schedule seems highly compressed for a typical NASA project of this scale ($7Billion). I wonder if they are trying to goose the schedule so the notion of just waiting to see if Starship succeeds would negate the program's justification.

https://spaceflightnow.com/2020/04/20/nasa-narrows-design-for-rocket-to-launch-samples-off-of-mars/
With two launches from Earth scheduled for 2026, NASA and ESA will send to Mars a stationary landing platform with the MAV, a mobile robot to fetch soil samples collected by NASA’s Perseverance rover, and an Earth Return Orbiter to bring the specimens back home

 

stealthflanker

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I guess the sample "freshness" would not be a concern.

Would be interesting tho to see the sample return capsule design. I would guess that it would have considerable protection against space radiation... so The sample will have the same level of background radiation as it was when it's still part of Mars Surface.
 

Grey Havoc

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Nope. There was a plan in the early 1970s (around 1974/75 I think) to use a Viking lander as the basis for a follow up mission to Viking 1 and 2 that would have returned soil samples to earth via a rocket to a orbiter that would have returned to earth, where the samples would have in turn been delivered via re-entry capsule. NASA may have been planning mid-air retrieval for that phase but I'm not sure.

Here's the initial proposal, thanks to Graham1973.
 

FighterJock

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Good news for the Mars Sample Return mission. Perseverance will land in the new year, so both NASA and ESA will have to move a lot faster than they are currently doing to get the samples back to Earth before the mid-decade.
 

Flyaway

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chimeric oncogene

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With SpaceX roaring ahead, it seems foolhardy to invest in Mars Sample Return at this point. At this point, you should be sizing your mass budget for Falcon Heavy, or even Starship.
 

Flyaway

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With SpaceX roaring ahead, it seems foolhardy to invest in Mars Sample Return at this point. At this point, you should be sizing your mass budget for Falcon Heavy, or even Starship.
You’ve not been suckered in by ‘Elon time’ have you.
 

chimeric oncogene

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With SpaceX roaring ahead, it seems foolhardy to invest in Mars Sample Return at this point. At this point, you should be sizing your mass budget for Falcon Heavy, or even Starship.
You’ve not been suckered in by ‘Elon time’ have you.
Yeah, but why accelerate the schedule five years when you can get a lot more done in ten, at lower cost?

Or is a negative Mars Sample Return sample needed to determine bioprotection levels?
 

Archibald

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What is really interesting with present MSR plan is the use of the so called "cache rover".
One rover travel across Mars landscape, collect samples, and later bring them back to a Earth return vehicle.

Now, in the days of Ye-8-5, Lunas and Lunokhods, the Soviets had a very similar plan for the Moon, called Sparka.


A third Lunokhod was planned, and there was talk of a mission more ambitious and potentially much more rewarding than Lunokhod. Named Sparka, from the Russian word for “pair,” the mission would team a Lunokhod-style rover with a Luna sample-return craft. Roaming the moon, the Sparka rover would pick up samples with a robotic arm, take pictures, and carry its geologic treasures to a waiting sample-return vehicle. With a well-chosen, well-documented collection of samples, Sparka promised a scientific return equalling that of the Apollo landings.

It was not to be. Support for more robotic missions to the moon evaporated as interest shifted to a more distant and mysterious goal: Mars. Already, the Soviets had tried two times to land instruments on the Red Planet without success, and it was public knowledge that the United States was planning its own Mars landings, in a program called Viking. Lunokhod 3 never went to the moon—the rover now sits on display at the Lavochkin Museum in Moscow—and Sparka never made it past the conceptual stage.
 

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