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Request

for Proposal AER407 Fall 2012 Mars Science Laboratory Sample Rescue Mission (MSL-SRM)

AER407 Request for Proposal MSL Sample Rescue Mission (MSL-SRM)


1. Introduction With its rover named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet's "habitability." Mars Science Laboratory will study Mars' habitability To find out, the rover will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface. The rover will analyze samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil" -- in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in the past. Mars Science Laboratory relies on innovative technologies Mars Science Laboratory will rely on new technological innovations, especially for landing. The spacecraft will descend on a parachute and then, during the final seconds prior to landing, lower the upright rover on a tether to the surface, much like a sky crane. Once on the surface, the rover will be able to roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (29 inches) high and travel up to 90 meters (295 feet) per hour. On average, the rover is expected to travel about 30 meters (98 feet) per hour, based on power levels, slippage, steepness of the terrain, visibility, and other variables. The rover will carry a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars' surface of a full Martian year (687 Earth days) or more, while also providing significantly greater mobility and operational flexibility, enhanced science payload capability, and exploration of a much larger range of latitudes and altitudes than was possible on previous missions to Mars. Arriving at Mars in 2012, Mars Science Laboratory will serve as an entre to the next decade of Mars exploration. It represents a huge step in Mars surface science and exploration capability because it will:

demonstrate the ability to land a very large, heavy rover to the surface of Mars (which could be used for a future Mars Sample Return mission that would collect rocks and soils and send them back to Earth for laboratory analysis) demonstrate the ability to land more precisely in a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) landing circle demonstrate long-range mobility on the surface of the red planet (5-20 kilometers or about 3 to 12 miles) for the collection of more diverse samples and studies.

2. MSL Science Goals The primary goal of the mission is to maximize the science data output from MSL on Mars to the researchers on Earth. In this context, NASA has defined it science goals: The Mars Science Laboratory will begin surface operations soon after landing in August 2012 and continue for at least one Mars year (approximately two Earth years). The overall scientific goal of the mission is to explore and quantitatively assess a local region on Mars' surface as a potential habitat for life, past or present. The MSL rover is designed to carry ten scientific instruments and a sample acquisition, processing, and distribution system. The various payload elements will work together to detect and study potential sampling targets with remote and in situ measurements; to acquire samples of rock, soil, and atmosphere and analyze them in onboard analytical instruments; and to observe the environment around the rover. MSL will investigate a site that shows clear evidence for ancient aqueous processes based on orbital data and undertake the search for past and present habitable environments. Assessment of present habitability requires an evaluation of the characteristics of the environment and the processes that influence it from microscopic to regional scales and a comparison of those characteristics with what is known about the capacity of life, as we know it, to exist in such environments. Determination of past habitability has the added requirement of inferring environments and processes in the past from observation in the present. Such assessments require the integration of a wide variety of chemical, physical, and geological observations. MSL is not a life detection mission and is not designed to detect extant vital processes that would betray present-day microbial metabolism. Nor does it have the ability to image microorganisms or their fossil equivalents. MSL does have, however, the capability to detect complex organic molecules in rocks and soils. If present, these might be of biological origin, but could also reflect the influx of carbonaceous meteorites. More indirectly, MSL will have the analytical capability to probe other less unique biosignatures, specifically, the isotopic composition of inorganic and organic carbon in rocks and soils, particular elemental and mineralogical concentrations and abundances, and the attributes of unusual rock textures. The main challenge in establishment of a biosignature is finding patterns, either chemical or textural, that are not easily explained by physical processes. MSL will also be able to evaluate the concentration and isotopic composition of potentially biogenic atmospheric gases such as methane, which has recently been detected in the modern atmosphere. But compared to the current and past missions that have all been targeted to find evidence for past or present water, the task of searching for habitable environments is significantly more challenging (e.g., Grotzinger, Nature Geoscience, 2009).

Primarily, this is because the degree to which organic carbon would be preserved on the Martian surfaceeven if it were produced in abundanceis unknown. The MSL mission has four primary science objectives to meet the overall habitability assessment goal:

The first is to assess the biological potential of at least one target environment by determining the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds, searching for the chemical building blocks of life, and identifying features that may record the actions of biologically relevant processes. The second objective is to characterize the geology of the landing region at all appropriate spatial scales by investigating the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of surface and near-surface materials, and interpreting the processes that have formed rocks and soils. The third objective is to investigate planetary processes of relevance to past habitability (including the role of water) by assessing the long timescale atmospheric evolution and determining the present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide. The fourth objective is to characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic cosmic radiation, solar proton events, and secondary neutrons.

These observations and measurements will individually be of great scientific interest and importance, but the overall scientific goal of assessing present and past habitability of environments at the visited sites will only come from their comprehensive integration, and this is consequently a key feature of the proposed mission. Each of the ten instruments contributes to multiple science objectives, and most of the science objectives involve contributions from several instruments. Because of the cross-instrument nature of the science return, much of the tactical operations and science assessment will be coordinated through science theme groups comprising the entire MSL science team, as discussed in a later section. Strategic science operations, data analysis, and dissemination of results will be integrated by and coordinated through the MSL Project Science Group (PSG). References: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/overview/ http://msl-scicorner.jpl.nasa.gov/ScienceGoals 3. Problem Background On August 31, 2012 Curiosity conducted its first end-to-end check out of its sample acquisition, sample handling and in situ analysis systems. A soil sample was obtained by the CHIMRA sample handling system [1] that was subsequently delivered to both the SAM [2] and ChemMin [3] in situ instruments. A prolonged check out period was scheduled, allowing engineering and science teams to assess results, and ascertain that the instruments were functioning nominally. It was during this time that the Organic Geochemistry and Biosignatures Theme Group reported that the sample obtained had a highly unique signature, possibly organic in nature. Subsequent analysis ruled out instrument effects, contamination and geological processes that could be responsible, and

concluded that there is a high probability that the sample signature is from a biological source. Owing to the magnitude of such a discovery, the MSL mission was suspended, while both science and engineering teams ascertained the likelihood of the samples origins. During this period it was also determined that as much as half of the collected sample may still be contained within the CHIMRA system. On Sept 10th NASA determined that after carefully reviewing data from the Curiosity rover, we have concluded that there is a 97% likelihood that we have located extinct/extant life on another planet, and a 0.0012% that this sample is geologic in nature. Furthermore, a sizable portion of the sample remains onboard the rover, which, if brought back to Earth, could provide conclusive evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life. As such, it has been decided that use of Curiositys robotic sample handling system will be suspended indefinitely while the viability of a sample rescue mission is ascertained. [4] [1] http://msl-scicorner.jpl.nasa.gov/samplingsystem/ [2] http://ssed.gsfc.nasa.gov/sam/ [3] http://msl-scicorner.jpl.nasa.gov/Instruments/CheMin/ [4] http://myfakeNASAnewsstory.nasa.gov/MSL/ 4. Problem Statement NASA is requesting proposals for an organization to prepare operational solutions for the retrieval of a Martian soil sample of extinct/extant life from the MSL Curiosity rover. Given the nature of this mission, the successful retrieval of an unaltered sample is paramount, and resources from NASA, ESA, JAXA, ISRO, ROSCOSMOS and CSA will be made available as required. Thus far, such infrastructure includes the launch and cruise vehicle, as well as the Martian orbital capture and Earth return vehicles. The selected organization would be responsible to assess how best to land an asset on the surface of Mars from orbit, retrieve the sample from the Curiosity rover, and return it to Martian orbit for retrieval. 5. Assumptions The sample handling and in situ analysis tools on-board Curiosity will not be used leading up to the retrieval of the sample. The robotic Arm, APXS, and microscope will still be usable by mission operations leading up to the retrieval of the sample. The rover will still have mobility capabilities at the time of sample retrieval, and it is estimated that it will be capable of up to 5 km of traverse. It was estimated that the original amount of sample collected was the maximum 30,000 mm3, and that the SAM and ChemMin instruments received approximately 300 mm3 and 13,000 mm3, respectively.

6. Requirements The SRM system shall be capable of entry into the Martian atmosphere starting from orbit The SRM system shall be able to descend through the Martian atmosphere The SRM system shall be able to land on the surface of Mars The SRM system shall retrieve greater than 5,000 mm3 of sample from the Curiosity rover The SRM system shall preserve volatile components of the sample The SRM system shall maintain the sample within nominal Martian ambient parameters The SRM system shall not contaminate the sample greater than 5 ppb of any known substance. The SRM system shall return the acquired sample to Mars orbit for retrieval by an orbital asset (and subsequent return to Earth). The retrieved portion of the SRM system shall be no larger than a sphere with a radius of 0.5 m.