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A Reliable Earth Return System for Safe Recovery of Mars SamplesThe objective of a Mars sample return mission is to bring selected Mars surface materials to Earth. Numerous approaches for the Earth-return segment have been analyzed including propulsive or aerocapture return to low-Earth orbit followed by Space Shuttle rendezvous and direct entry. Of these approaches, ballistic entry of a small capsule terminating in a ground landing has been shown to be the lowest risk strategy. Over the past two years, significant work has been performed towards development of a robust direct entry vehicle for Mars sample return. In June 1999, the NASA Planetary Protection Officer provided initial guidance to the former Mars Sample Return Project. The sample return phase of the mission was assigned a restricted Earth return planetary protection classification. The draft mission requirement states that the total mean probability of release of unsterilized Mars material into the Earth;s biosphere must be less than 1.0E-06 (1 in a million). This strict requirement drives the approach and design of the Earth return system. To meet this requirement, selection of the Earth return strategy and development of the Earth return system must be guided by risk, not performance, based decisions. An initial Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) was performed to address the direct entry Earth return system containment assurance reliability and to identify high-risk elements of this system. The results of this PRA identified risk elements that include thermal protection system performance during entry, spin-eject orientation and aerodynamic stability during entry, structural integrity under atmospheric deceleration and impact loads, and tracking/recovery of this system. This initial probabilistic risk quantification demonstrates that, with the proper development program, a prototypical direct entry design can satisfy the containment assurance reliability requirement. Through the current Mars Sample Return Advanced Technology Development effort, an extensive design, analysis, and test program is presently proceeding with the aim of reducing the containment assurance risk of this system. This technology development effort, guided by a continuing PRA, focuses on key risk areas of a direct entry Earth return system including: the thermal protection system, impact dynamics, structural performance, aerodynamic stability, and ground recovery. This development program will culminate in a system validation flight test, 1-2 years prior to launch of the flight system. This flight test would include the launch, entry, and recovery of a full-scale Earth return system, as a scientific validation of the key risk elements to verify nominal design performance. The results of the initial PRA suggested several dominant failure sequences that can be validated in a flight test. These include: demonstrating the thermal protection system reliability and performance during entry, demonstrating the spin-eject orientation and aero-dynamic stability during entry, demonstrating the structural integrity under atmospheric deceleration and impact loads, and demonstrating tracking and recovery of the Earth return system. This single test will directly address over 50% of the total containment assurance risk elements. This presentation will begin by presenting the relative risk of various Earth return strategies. The results of the initial probabilistic risk assessment will be presented followed by a discussion of the development accomplishments and plans for demonstration of a highly reliable direct entry Earth return system.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Langley Research Center
Document Type
Braun, R.
(NASA Langley Research Center Hampton, VA United States)
Killough, B.
(NASA Langley Research Center Hampton, VA United States)
Mitcheltree, R.
(NASA Langley Research Center Hampton, VA United States)
Carroll, C.
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA United States)
Date Acquired
August 20, 2013
Publication Date
July 1, 2000
Publication Information
Publication: Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration
Issue: Part 1
Subject Category
Space Transportation And Safety
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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