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Earth Return Probe Reaches Design Maturity

Earth Return Probe Reaches Design Maturity

Science and Exploration

05/07/2024
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The European Space Agency’s Mars Reentry Vehicle, the first spacecraft to rendezvous with and capture an object around another planet, has passed a milestone by bringing the first samples from Mars back to Earth.

Today, a critical design review of the spacecraft platform was completed, with the participation of European industry and NASA.

ERO Engineering Qualification Model

The critical design review is one of the most important stages in any spaceflight project to bring the spacecraft to reality. The fundamental critical design review (P-CDR) confirmed the performance, quality and reliability of the systems used in this unprecedented mission to Mars.

The Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) is ESA’s main contribution to the Mars Sample Return campaign, a complex set of missions to return samples of Martian rock, soil and atmosphere to Earth.

Europe is ready for Mars

Validating the design and technical details represents a formal step towards the integration phase.

“European industry is ready for the next chapter,” says Thiago Loureiro, ERO project team leader. “Robust design is the foundation for building, testing and assembling hardware into a complete spacecraft.”

Solar Power Array for Earth Return Orbiter

Fabrication and testing of spacecraft components can now begin to ensure the mission progresses toward launch.

Suppliers from 11 European countries are on board to build parts for a spacecraft that is set to make a full round trip from Earth to Mars.

Challenges

NASA has announced plans to Mars Sample Return Program Update Last April, experiments were conducted on low-complexity, low-risk, low-cost spaceflights, including innovative designs and proven technology to return valuable samples from Mars to Earth.

ESA technical teams worked closely with their NASA counterparts to prepare for the software review.

Bringing samples of Martian rocks back to Earth

“The spacecraft configuration is robust enough to be flexible with the payload and helps find solutions for new architectures,” explains Thiago. “ESA and our industrial partners have adapted to a new scenario, remaining innovative and resourceful while remaining a reliable partner to NASA.”

“We have confirmed that the Earth return vehicle is performing as planned and more, whatever the alternatives,” he added.

Magic

The Earth Return Probe has a key role in bringing samples from Mars back to Earth, but before it can do that, it must find them in space.

Earth return probe lens

ERO’s design has proven surprisingly capable of capturing a basketball-sized capsule filled with samples collected by NASA’s rover. Perseverance vehicle.

“This mission demonstrates European technological prowess at its best,” says Orson Sutherland, ESA’s Mars Programme Manager. “From a staggering distance of several hundred million kilometres, teams based on Earth will be choreographing a complex orbital dance around Mars.”

Earth return probe captures samples from Mars

Their challenge is to locate a small capsule, maneuver it into a specific orbit to reach a rendezvous point, and successfully capture it – all while operating remotely across a vast expanse of space.

ERO’s five-year mission to Mars and back will also see the spacecraft act as a communications relay with rovers and landers on the surface.

European Excellence

Teams in Europe are building on already mature technologies for autonomous navigation, rendezvous and docking, expertise gained over decades from missions such as the Autonomous Transfer Vehicle and Europe’s first mission to Jupiter with the GOCE spacecraft. Knowledge from the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin mission to the Red Planet is also feeding into this mission.

ERO will be the largest spacecraft ever built for interplanetary travel. Contributions come from France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Romania and the Netherlands.

Infographic about the Earth Return Probe

Airbus Defence and Space He has overall responsibility for the ERO mission to build the spacecraft and conduct mission analysis from France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Thales Alenia Space Roscosmos will play a major role in assembling the spacecraft, developing the communications system and supplying the orbit insertion module from its factory in Turin, Italy.

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