Current advanced planning concepts for a robotic Mars Sample Return (MSR) architecture involve a campaign of three missions: MSR-C, MSR-L, and MSR-O. MSR-C (which is planned to be fulfilled by Mars 2020) will collect and cache samples with a rover, MSR-L will retrieve the Cache Canister and launch it into Mars orbit using a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and a rover and/or a lander, and MSR-O will locate and capture the Orbital Sample (OS) in Mars orbit and bring it back to Earth.
For the MSR series to be considered viable, JPL must demonstrate an end-to-end sample transfer chain that is compatible with the evolving MSR architecture. The focus of this task is on the MSR-O mission and the specific challenges of capturing the OS in Mars orbit and then transferring it into the Earth Entry Vehicle (EEV). The scope of this task, with respect to the mission timeline, starts with the OS within tens of meters of the spacecraft, and ends after the transfer of the OS to the EEV. This task will first define the OS capture, constraint, control, cleaning, and transfer (OC4T) system architecture, and will identify the key technology developments required for robust OS handling. This task will then develop complimentary hardware and simulation testbeds with the key physical elements of the OS handling chain and the capability to simulate the zero-g environment of the capture phase. This task will also use these testbeds to develop the low TRL technologies and to demonstrate end-to-end operation, thus retiring the risk in the OC4T chain. Successful completion of this task will provide a key foundation for the MSR-O sample return mission.
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