Martian box of delights

October 30, 2013
Mars sample container.

(Phys.org) —This spherical container has been engineered to house the most scientifically valuable cargo imaginable: samples brought back from the Red Planet.

Still probably many years in the future and most likely international in nature, a Mars sample-return is one of the most challenging space ventures possible for .

A robust, multifunctional sample container is an essential link in the long technical chain necessary to make such a mission successful.

Weighing less than 5 kg, this 23 cm-diameter sphere is designed to keep martian samples in pristine condition at under –10°C throughout their long journey back to Earth.

First, the sample container must be landed on Mars, along with a rover to retrieve a cache of samples carefully selected by a previous mission, according to current mission scenarios.

The container seen here hosts 11 sealable receptacles, including one set aside for a sample of martian air.

Then, once filled, it will be launched back up to Mars orbit. There it will remain for several days until a rendezvous spacecraft captures it. To ease the process of rendezvous, the sample container carries a radio emitter and retroreflectors for close-up laser ranging.

Mars Sample Return mission.

Before being returned to Earth, the container will be enclosed in another larger bio-sealed vessel to ensure perfect containment of any returned martian material. This container will then be returned to Earth for a high-speed entry.

"Because there is the potential, however remote, that the samples contain alien life, we have to comply with strict planetary protection protocols not to bring them into contact with Earth's biosphere," explained Benoit Laine, Head of ESA's Thermal Analysis and Verification section, who oversaw the sample container project.

"In effect, the parachute technology is not reliable enough – which means the container must be able to withstand a crash landing without parachute.

"The mission design therefore does not include any parachute, and the capsule literally falls from Mars onto Earth, decelerated only by the pressure on the heatshield through Earth's atmosphere, and by the impact at landing."

The video will load shortly
Mars sample container.

While the sample container is a proof-of-concept design rather than actual mission hardware, it is fully functional and has undergone testing in simulated thermal conditions, including a 400 g shock test.

"This challenging project drew on the expertise of multiple ESA specialists," added Benoit. "It incorporates mechanical systems covering structural, thermal and mechanisms engineering but also communications, antennas and power – it has of course to incorporate a highly reliable battery."

The prime contractor for the project, which was supported through ESA's Aurora programme, was French company Mecano I&D. Activities to prepare for a Mars sample mission continue, including a refinement of the design, coordinated by the future missions preparatory office of ESA's Directorate of Science and Robotic Exploration.

Explore further: Mars Sample Return: bridging robotic and human exploration

Related Stories

Mars Sample Return: bridging robotic and human exploration

July 21, 2008

The first robotic mission to return samples to Earth from Mars took a further step toward realisation with the recent publication of a mission design report by the iMARS Working Group. The report, defines key elements of ...

NASA wants investigations for a Mars 2020 rover

September 30, 2013

(Phys.org) —NASA has released its announcement of an open competition for the planetary community to submit proposals for the science and exploration technology instruments that would be carried aboard the agency's next ...

Finding alien worlds on Earth

October 18, 2013

Have you ever wondered which places on Earth most resemble other planets? For some of us, imagining the landscape of other worlds might just be for fun, but scientists and engineers wonder about what the otherworldly places ...

ExoMars 2016 set to complete construction

June 18, 2013

ESA's mission to Mars in 2016 has entered the final stage of construction with the signature of a contract today with Thales Alenia Space at the Paris Air & Space Show.

Recommended for you

Video: A colorful 'landing' on Pluto

January 20, 2017

What would it be like to actually land on Pluto? This movie was made from more than 100 images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft over six weeks of approach and close flyby in the summer of 2015. The video offers a trip ...

Freeze-dried food and 1 bathroom: 6 simulate Mars in dome

January 20, 2017

Crammed into a dome with one bathroom, six scientists will spend eight months munching on mostly freeze-dried foods—with a rare treat of Spam—and have only their small sleeping quarters to retreat to for solace.

Image: Wavemaker moon Daphnis

January 20, 2017

The wavemaker moon, Daphnis, is featured in this view, taken as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made one of its ring-grazing passes over the outer edges of Saturn's rings on Jan. 16, 2017. This is the closest view of the small ...

The evolution of massive galaxy clusters

January 20, 2017

Galaxy clusters have long been recognized as important laboratories for the study of galaxy formation and evolution. The advent of the new generation of millimeter and submillimeter wave survey telescopes, like the South ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Humpty
1 / 5 (8) Oct 31, 2013
Uhhhh crock of shit....

I mean dirt.

Ahhhhhhh 155 analaysings of the same dirt....

WOW....

The rovers do it... and do it to death...

And so they send more of it back here....

Hmmmmmmmmm

It's a radio active shit hole - you can't live there.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.