30 October 2020
Europe/Rome timezone

Paving the way for Italian scientific community towards next step in Mars exploration



Next step in the Mars exploration is to return samples from the Red Planet. Its success involves unprecedented technical challenges and complex international collaborations. Samples will be identified and cached by the NASA Mars2020 rover, which is expected to land in Jezero Crater on February 2021. NASA and ESA are currently exploring concepts for a joint mission to bring the samples back to the Earth by 2031 [1,2]

Samples returned from Mars will be the most precious specimen ever collected. Mineralogy and engineering objectives of a Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign, as well as the measurements, types of samples required, and methods to handle them in order to best address these objectives, have been defined in a Report [3] produced by an international team (iMOST, International MSR Objectives/ Samples Team) and currently under discussion by the NASA Mars Exploration Analysis Group (MEPAG).

While substantial efforts have been devoted for defining the technical elements of how samples could be returned successfully from Mars and which will be the scientific goals, sample management after their return on Earth is not defined yet. The need for a science handling plan has been outlined [4] and a discussion is ongoing in ESA to evaluate sample management, although for the time being there is no provision for an European Sample return facility. The EURO-CARES (European Curation of Astromaterials Returned from Exploration of Space) project, funded under the European Commission's Horizon2020 research program, provided a roadmap [5, 6] for the implementation of a European Extra-terrestrial Sample Curation Facility (ESCF). Other proposals, (e.g. set up a network of pre-accredited laboratories or have only a facility in the USA, to which European scientists would be granted access to) are also under examination. Recently MEPAG has published a report for a proposal for a framework for MSR science management for NASA/ESA consideration [7]. Relevant documents will be also discussed at the BEACON 2021, the Biennial European Astrobiology Conference organized by the European Astrobiology Institute (EAI).



To stimulate the widest contribution from the Italian community and to guarantee the best possible representation of the Italian scientists to this exciting long-term program, we propose to operate via specific workshops to be held in the next months. The ultimate goal is to build solid collaborations among Italian scientific and technologic communities interested in MSR to be internationally competitive for the next frontier in the exploration of Mars.

These Workshops will gather the Italian communities with wide expertise covering major topics related to sample return missions. Working Groups will be identified to discuss at national level the scientific objectives and investigations strategies defined by the iMOST reports.

MSR Science Goals and Investigations are based on the iMOST Report [3]. Experts interested in contributing to a specific Working Group are asked to indicate their own background at the linked form.

Important dates

 - 1st WORKSHOP - VIRTUAL - 30th of October 2020 

 - 2nd WORKSHOP - VIRTUAL - early 2021

- 3rd WORKSHOP - ON SITE - spring 2021



[1] Timothy Haltigin, Christian Lange, Raffaele Mugnuolo, Caroline Smith & iMars2 Working Group, “A Draft Mission Architecture and Science Management Plan for the Return of Samples from Mars” Astrobiology, Vol: 18 Issue S1: April 1, 2018, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2018.29027.mars.

[2]Ewards, C. D.,Muirhead, B. K., Beaty, D. W.,Lock, R. E.,Nicholas, A. K.,Vijendran, S.,Huesing, J., Sutherlan, O., Sefton-Nash, E., Duvet, L.A, Proposed Joint NASA-ESA Architecture for the Retrun of Martian Samples, Ninth International Conference on Mars, LPI Contrib. No. 2089, 2019.

[3] International MSR Objectives and Samples Team (iMOST), The potential science and engineering value of samples delivered to Earth by Mars sample return; Meteoritics & Planetary Science 54, Nr 3, 667–671, 2019 (available also at https://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/reports/iMOST_Final_Report_180814.pdf)

[4] T. Haltigin, C. Lange, R. Mugnuolo, and C. Smith, “Draft Science Management Plan For Returned Samples From Mars: Recommendations From The International Mars Architecture For The Return Of Samples (iMARS) Phase Ii Working Group”, 2nd International Mars Sample Return 2018 (LPI Contrib. No. 2071), 2018LPICo2071.6038H

[5] Brucato J.R. and EURO-CARES Team, EURO-CARES as Roadmap for a European Sample Curation Facility, Second International Mars Sample Return, LPI No. 2071, 2018.

[6] EuroCares Reports http://www.euro-cares.eu/reports.

[7] MSPG (MSR Science Planning Group: co-chairs M. Meyer and E. Sefton-Nash; facilitation D. W. Beaty and B. L. Carrier; and D. Bass, F. Gaubert, M. M. Grady, T. Haltigin, Y. Liu, D. Martin, B. Marty, R. Mattingly, S. Siljeström, E. Stansbery, K. Tait, M. Wadhwa, L. White), 2019, A Framework for Mars Returned Sample Science Management. Unpublished white paper, posted 12/11/19 at https://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/reports.cfm?expand=mspg.

Registration for this event is currently open.