Thermal Control of Mars Sample in Orbit & During Ascent from Mars
Although NASA has no official plans at this time for a mission to return samples from Mars, the Program Formulation Office of the Mars Exploration Program sponsors ongoing mission concept studies, systems analyses, and technology investments which explore different strategies for the potential return of samples from Mars, consistent with the charter of the program and stated priorities of the science community. In such a mission, maintaining the thermal integrity of collected samples would be very important. In general, samples would be collected, sealed inside tubes, and left on the surface for later retrieval. They would then be inserted into an OS (Orbiting Sample), and carried to a Mars or Solar orbit via a MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicle). Subsequently, an Earth return vehicle would rendezvous with the OS and bring it back to Earth. During ascent from Mars, the OS could serve as the nose cone of the MAV and would be subjected to significant aerodynamic heating from the Martian atmosphere. Once the OS is released from the MAV, its external surface would be exposed to potentially several years of sunlight, eclipse, planetary IR, albedo, and space. The challenge is to ensure that these samples are kept at thermally moderate conditions to preserve their integrity in these widely different environments. Various thermal techniques have been investigated to achieve sample thermal control: use of thermal protection shields and surfaces (ablative and non-ablative) to protect them from adverse exposure to ascent heating, as well combinations of thermo-optical coatings during the orbit phase. The work described herein is part of this ongoing effort & will describe the key challenges related to the thermal control of the potential Mars samples during these phases and the corresponding possible schemes to overcome them.