Mars Sample Return Mission Terminal Rendezvous Requirement

Thumbnail Image
Gibbings, Alison
Associated Organizations
Supplementary to
Any perceived Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission is of both scientific and technological importance. Various commercial and research based organisations have invested considerable amounts of effort and resources to study and define the necessary architecture to achieve such a complex mission. The fundamental objective is to return a 0.5 kg sample of Martian surface, subsurface and atmosphere to Earth for further terrestrial analysis [1]. This will enable scientists to perform detailed mineralogical, geochemical and petrologic analysis that can not currently be conducted through in-situ analysis or remote sensing techniques. While the development of key mission and technology drivers (system and subsystem) will act as a fundamental precursor for the eventual human exploration of Mars. Under the proposed baseline architecture, the return phase is still considered to be a logistical and technological challenge. This includes; the Martian ascent, the rendezvous and Earth return [2]. Within the surface operations, the collected samples are placed inside a sample canister where they are transferred into a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), allowing for subsequent launch and release into a 'free-flying' low Mars orbit. Once in orbit, an external and autonomous capture mechanism mounted onboard the Mars Orbiter will be able to retrieve and capture the quasi-spherical sample canister, this is known as terminal rendezvous. When captured, the sample canister is transferred into the Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) stowed onboard the Orbiter. Only when all these steps have been accomplished is the rendezvous and transfer chain complete. It is critical that the Martian samples are transferred effectively and correctly, ensuring that the critical geology and chemical composition of the samples are preserved. Without successful retrieval of the sample canister the ultimate goals of the MSR mission can never be achieved. The focus of this paper is to exclusively formulate and present the issues contained within the terminal rendezvous sequence, allowing for a fully functional capture mechanism to be designed. Thereby allowing for each critical function to be addressed and the identification of several key system and mission drivers to be considered, such issues include: mechanical performance, inertia, sample bouncing, planetary protection, subsystem integration and reliability [3]. All work has been performed in accordance to the MSR capture scenario, mission requirements and baseline architecture. The critical mechanical and technological advances that ultimately contribute to the advances and overall success of any MSR mission profile will undoubtedly assist in the further exploration and return of samples from a range of planetary and extraterrestrial bodies. [1] EADS Astrium (2004) Mars Sample Return Study Executive Study, Issue 1, CI Code TN/MSR/AST/101, UK Export Control Rating: 9E001 [2] European Space Agency (2006) Mars Sample Return Phase A2, Mission and System Requirements, Issue 1, Revision 2, Reference MSR-SRD-ESA (HME)-0001 [3] ESA-ESTEC (2005) Statement of Work, Capture/Docking Mechanism Testing Specification, Issue 1, Reference TEC-MMM/2005/978
Kingston University ; EAD Astrium
Date Issued
Resource Type
Resource Subtype
Rights Statement
Rights URI