Tim Furniss

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the French space agency (CNES) are part of an international effort to return samples of the Martian surface to Earth in 2008.

The Mars bid will begin in 2003 with the launch of a Delta III booster which will despatch the NASA landing craft which is designed to take the first samples of the Red Planet. The craft will comprise a roving vehicle and a small booster, called the Mars Ascent Vehicle.


The 'intelligent' rover will roam the planet, taking samples up to 2m beneath the surface and depositing them into a container on the MAV.

A total of up to 500g of precious Martian material will be collected during the mission which will last "several months", says CNES.

A sample collector capsule on the MAV will be propelled into the pink Martian sky by a small, three-stage "missile", reaching 600km Martian orbit.

A second MAV container will also be launched from another surface lander, launched in 2005, and mvoing over Mars in 2006. This craft will have landed in another location.

By this time, the 5.2 tonne CNES/NASA Mars Sample Collection and Mars Sample Return craft will be waiting in orbit. This will be launched by an Ariane 5 in 2005, reaching Mars orbit in July 2006.


Before entering orbit, the craft will deploy four capsules which will make parachute and airbag-assisted landings on different parts of Mars. These Netlanders will conduct various science observations independently.

To enter Mars orbit, the craft will perform an "aerobraking" manoeuvre, "bouncing" on the atmosphere.

The orbiter's job is to acquire the sample return capsules, using determination data from the ESA Mars Express orbiter, which will have been launched in 2003.

The capture manoeuvres complete, the orbiter will retrieve the sample capsules and place them in an onboard Earth return capsule.

In July 2007, the orbiter will fire itself out of Martian orbit, entering a trajectory towards the Earth. By May 2008, the orbiter will have reached the vicinity of the Earth.

It will deploy the capsule which will make an 11.5km/sec plunge into the Earth's atmosphere, eventually landing by parachute in Utah, USA in August 2008.

Source: Flight Daily News