Thales Alenia Space Selected By Airbus as Partner to the Mars Sample Return Mission

Thales Alenia Space technology and expertise will contribute to the Earth Return Orbiter which will bring Red Planet samples back to Earth.

Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has signed an Authorization To Proceed (ATP) with Airbus Defence and Space, prime contractor of the program, to contribute to the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), the key element of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) Mission, which will be carried out through an international cooperation led by NASA. A first tranche, worth around €11 million, will be related to the B2 phase for a global contract value of around €130 million.

Thales Alenia Space will be responsible for:

  • supplying the Communication System, consisting of the elements allowing the data transmission between Earth and ERO and Mars
  • designing the crucial Orbit Insertion Module (OIM) and related thermo-mechanical, propulsion and electrical architectures
  • the Assembly Integration and Test (AIT) phase for the Proto-Flight model of the ERO Spacecraft composing elements in its test facilities of Turin and Toulouse.

The Earth Return Orbiter spacecraft is composed by the Return Module and the Orbit Insertion Module. The Return Module (RM) hosts the NASA payload devoted to the capture of the Martian samples orbiting around Mars, of their containment and delivery to Earth. The Orbit Insertion Module (OIM) is an additional chemical propulsive stage, for inserting the spacecraft into Mars orbit. This module is crucial as he will allow to reduce the spacecraft velocity enabling the Martian gravity to capture ERO in a stable orbit. After the maneuver successfully completed, IOM will be separated from RM in order to save mass prior to the return to Earth.

Leonardo is also widely involved in Mars exploration missions, from the ExoMars 2016 and 2022 missions to the Mars Sample Return program. On this latter program, Leonardo is studying and designing the two robotic arms that will collect and transfer the Martian samples on the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV).

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