Author Topic: Mars Sample Return through direct ascent from Mars surface  (Read 1737 times)

Offline hektor

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Given the difficulties with the current architecture, and its cost, has an architecture with direct ascent from the Mars surface to Earth even been evaluated in terms of performance. Like the Russians did on the Moon, so to say.

What would be the minimum mass of the lander. Which launcher could launch it ?

I am starting to think that given the multi billion price tag of the current lander and orbital rendez vous strategy, with multiple spacecraft involved, you could save money even maybe with a strategy based on a single SLS launch...

(even better should a FH be possible)
« Last Edit: 11/01/2023 12:58 pm by hektor »

Offline whitelancer64

There is indeed such design work from the 1960s and 70s. The most recent is a study from the 1980s that considered a direct descent / ascent sample return architecture.

Here's an article about it:  https://www.wired.com/2012/12/jpljsc-mars-sample-return-study-i-1984/

As far as I know, all Mars Sample Return studies since the 1990s have architectures where the samples are captured in Mars orbit and brought back to Earth with another vehicle. It minimizes the mass that has to be landed on Mars and launched again.
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Offline tbellman

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As far as I know, all Mars Sample Return studies since the 1990s have architectures where the samples are captured in Mars orbit and brought back to Earth with another vehicle. It minimizes the mass that has to be landed on Mars and launched again.

There are two other important considerations as well.

One is that it allows you to transfer the sample container and encapsulate anything that has been exposed to the Mars surface and atmosphere into another container.  This would limit/eliminate concerns about contaminating Earth with Mars germs.

The other, and probably more important, is that it allows you to split the costs over two organizations, in this case NASA and ESA.  Even if a hypothetical direct-return mission would have a lower total cost, it would almost certainly have a higher cost for NASA, and leave nothing for ESA to do.  (If getting the samples back at the lowest cost was the only consideration, then ESA could just pay NASA money, or vice versa depending on where the competence exists.  But the prestige of actually having built part of the mission, as well as spending money in the correct geographical/political areas is important in our world.)

Offline whitelancer64

I've done some more reading on the 1984 Mars Sample Return concept. The big report on it is the "Mars Sample Return Mission 1984 Study Report"

It was huge, complex, and ambitious as hell. Launch was by two Shuttle launches, one with the Mars vehicles in its aeroshell, and one carrying a fully fueled Centaur stage for the Trans Mars Injection burn. Or the Mars vehicles and upper stage could be mated at the (yet unbuilt) space station. The lander also carried a large rover which would get samples and bring them to the ascent vehicle.

Unfortunately, I could not find a PDF of this study, it's in Google Books though. 
https://books.google.com/books/about/Mars_Sample_Return_Mission.html?id=jEBHAQAAIAAJ

Appendix A has a very long list of vehicle component mass estimates.

However, it's technically not a direct return to Earth. After the MAV leaves Mars, it rendezvous with a Mars orbiter that takes the sample cannister back to Earth. That orbiter also served as the cruise stage to Mars, and it had inside of it an Earth Return Vehicle.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
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Offline Dalhousie

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There also have been also lower mass studies involving ISPP.  Here is one that would be done by a single Delta 7925 launch.

https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/19950021840/downloads/19950021840.pdf
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Online deadman1204

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The planetary society just did a long interview with Orlando Figueroa - the head of the committee which did the cost report on MSR. Alot of interesting stuff in it.

https://www.planetary.org/planetary-radio/spe-what-went-wrong-with-msr

Offline geza

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If it is so difficult, so time-consuming and so risky after so many decades of space probe development, as describen in the new report, then I feel we have reached the limits of this kind technology. Sure, MSR is scientifically very important. However, whatever the results will be, we will want other samples from different regions of Mars. If we can do the first in the early ‘30s from 10 billion, will we do the second one in the’40s from 8 billion?

If we want a radically different possibility, then SpaceX Starship is the only game in the town. Elon Musk hope to send the first cargo Starship o Mars in ’27. Well, Elon time... Nevertheless, it is not more Elon time, than the crewed Starship lunar lander for Artemis 3 in ’26. SpaceX has developed some credibility by now. Either Starship development fails completely (which is a possibility), or SS will land on Mars, maybe in ’27, maybe later, say in ’29-’31. Still, it is not more distant in the future, than the currently expected MSR.

Sure, the SS will not be able to come back. However, it can deliver a direct return spacecraft, which is not so much mass constrained than the usual space probes. Assume a cargo-Dragon capsule with a SuperDraco ascent stage for a direct return. It can be developed from the existing Dragon spacecraft without too much difficulty. I am sure, it would cost MUCH less than MSR, as currently envisioned.

On the longer term, but still in the first half of the ‘30s (except the case of a complete development failure), SpaceX excepts to establish local production of the return propellant allowing the Starships to return. Unfortunatly, it will happen at a base location, probably far, far away of the scientifically interesting places. Then a large robotic rover with a huge solar panel (no significant wind pressure on Mars) can operate out of that base and reach any place on Mars. (Current rovers are limited by power and communucation.)

Online deadman1204

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If it is so difficult, so time-consuming and so risky after so many decades of space probe development, as describen in the new report, then I feel we have reached the limits of this kind technology. Sure, MSR is scientifically very important. However, whatever the results will be, we will want other samples from different regions of Mars. If we can do the first in the early ‘30s from 10 billion, will we do the second one in the’40s from 8 billion?

If we want a radically different possibility, then SpaceX Starship is the only game in the town. Elon Musk hope to send the first cargo Starship o Mars in ’27. Well, Elon time... Nevertheless, it is not more Elon time, than the crewed Starship lunar lander for Artemis 3 in ’26. SpaceX has developed some credibility by now. Either Starship development fails completely (which is a possibility), or SS will land on Mars, maybe in ’27, maybe later, say in ’29-’31. Still, it is not more distant in the future, than the currently expected MSR.

Sure, the SS will not be able to come back. However, it can deliver a direct return spacecraft, which is not so much mass constrained than the usual space probes. Assume a cargo-Dragon capsule with a SuperDraco ascent stage for a direct return. It can be developed from the existing Dragon spacecraft without too much difficulty. I am sure, it would cost MUCH less than MSR, as currently envisioned.

On the longer term, but still in the first half of the ‘30s (except the case of a complete development failure), SpaceX excepts to establish local production of the return propellant allowing the Starships to return. Unfortunatly, it will happen at a base location, probably far, far away of the scientifically interesting places. Then a large robotic rover with a huge solar panel (no significant wind pressure on Mars) can operate out of that base and reach any place on Mars. (Current rovers are limited by power and communucation.)
A couple things:
1. The decadal is in agreement that MSR is a top prority
2. Humans won't be going to mars anytime soon. Starship is just one of a million things needed. Those other 999,999 things aren't being developed and also will take many years to develop.

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