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EADS Space wins contract to define Mars sample return missions

EADS Space has been awarded a EUR600k Study by ESA to carry out the first definition of a European Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. The study will benefit from the combined resources of EADS Astrium and EADS Space Transportation.

While EADS Astrium will define the overall mission and the spacecraft, EADS Space Transportation will be responsible for defining re-entry systems and a ‘Mars Ascent Vehicle’ – a small rocket to carry the precious sample up through the Martian atmosphere. European astronauts may land on Mars one day, but getting them there and safely returning them to Earth will involve many steps and numerous technical challenges in propulsion, structures, computers and software. It will require sophisticated spacecraft to escape from Earth’s orbit; fly to Mars, survive atmospheric entry and landing; operate on the surface; take-off; return to Earth and then finally get the crew back on terra firma.

Long before this can be accomplished some key technologies must be demonstrated. The best way to do this is to fly a robotic mission with a scaled-down version of the eventual manned mission. This is exactly the goal of Mars Sample Return, the second flagship mission of the European Space Agency’s Aurora planetary exploration initiative and one of the most eagerly awaited future space missions for the planetary scientists. Because Martian winds have transported dust across the planet’s surface over millions of years, the MSR sample could include particles from many different sources, representing a wide variety of rock types and ages, like grains of sand on a beach.

Each granule could offer completely different insights into the rich geologic past of the Red Planet. Scientists could now “look at the sample as if each grain were a rock,” said Professor Colin Pillinger of the Open University. This would build on the decades of research already carried out on lunar rock samples. EADS Space has used its unique heritage in building launch vehicles, planetary spacecraft and re-entry systems, combined with a deep understanding of the science goals to win the ESA mission study.
ESA’s Aurora Project Manager Bruno Gardini said “The Mars Sample Return mission is one of the most challenging missions ever considered by ESA. Not only does it include many new technologies and four or five different spacecraft, but it is also a mission of tremendous scientific importance and the first robotic mission with a similar profile to a possible human expedition to Mars.” Business Manager for new space science projects at EADS Astrium, Dr Dave Parker said: “Mars Sample Return is the holy grail for planetary scientists.

It has been studied in the US for some years, but now Europe will tackle the technical and cost problems with renewed vigour.”
Marie-Claire Perkinson, Senior Systems Engineer at EADS Astrium, Stevenage, leading the study said. “Mars Sample Return has so many technical challenges that we need an outstanding group of experts. Our industrial team includes EADS Space in France; Galileo Avionica in Italy, Sener in Spain and Utopia Consultancies in Germany.”

Once ESA raises the appropriate support and funds for the implementation of the MSR mission, launch could be as early as 2011. EADS Astrium is wholly owned by EADS SPACE. In 2002 EADS SPACE had a turnover of EUR2.2 billion and 12,300 employees in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain.