NASA proposes rapid Mars sample return architecture

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WASHINGTON — NASA is studying a “lean” architecture for Mars sample return that could allow the agency to bring back Martian rocks as soon as the end of the 2020s.

The concept, discussed at an Aug. 28 meeting of a National Academies committee performing a midterm review of the 2011 planetary science decadal survey, would focus on getting samples cached by the upcoming Mars 2020 mission off the planet and back to Earth as soon as possible.

“This is a much more lean architecture,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. “It goes straight for what I would consider the jugular issue, which is how to land and take off the planet.”

The concept, which he said is just one of many the agency is looking into, would involve the launch of a Mars lander no earlier than 2026, equipped with a sample collection rover and a rocket, known as a Mars ascent vehicle. The spacecraft would land near the Mars 2020 landing site and dispatch its rover to collect the samples cached by the earlier mission, returning them to the lander.

Those samples would be loaded onto the Mars ascent vehicle on the lander, which would then launch them into Mars orbit. A sample collection orbiter, launched separately, would then rendezvous and grab the sample for a return either direct to Earth or to cislunar space.

Zurbuchen didn’t give an explicit schedule for when those samples would arrive back at Earth. A “notional” timeline presented in one chart showed the sample collection lander launching at the beginning of “Year 1” with the samples arriving back on Earth in the latter half of “Year 3.”

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This article and images were originally posted on [] August 28, 2017 at 05:37PM

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