The most important single element of the 'ground system' portion of a Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign is a facility referred to as the Sample Receiving Facility (SRF), which would need to be designed and equipped to receive the returned spacecraft, extract and open the sealed sample container, extract the samples from the sample tubes, and implement a set of evaluations and analyses of the samples. One of the main findings of the first MSR Sample Planning Group (MSPG, 2019a) states that ?The scientific community, for reasons of scientific quality, cost, and timeliness, strongly prefers that as many sample-related investigations as possible be performed in PI-led laboratories outside containment.? There are many scientific and technical reasons for this preference, including the ability to utilize advanced and customized instrumentation that may be difficult to reproduce inside in a biocontained facility, and the ability to allow multiple science investigators in different labs to perform similar or complementary analyses to confirm the reproducibility and accuracy of results. It is also reasonable to assume that there will be a desire for the SRF to be as efficient and economical as possible, while still enabling the objectives of MSR to be achieved. For these reasons, MSPG concluded, and MSPG2 agrees, that the SRF should be designed to accommodate only those analytical activities that could not reasonably be done in outside laboratories because they are time- or sterilization-sensitive, are necessary for the Sample Safety Assessment Protocol (SSAP), or are necessary parts of the initial sample characterization process that would allow subsamples to be effectively allocated for investigation. All of this must be accommodated in an SRF, while preserving the scientific value of the samples through maintenance of strict environmental and contamination control standards.
The decision to implement Mars Sample Return will not be finalized until NASA’s
completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. This document is being made available for planning and information purposes only.
A portion of this work was funded by the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA). A portion of this work was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California
Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004).
This work has partly (H. B.) been carried out within the framework of the NCCR PlanetS supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. M.A.V.’s participation in MSPG2 was supported in part by a sabbatical leave-of-absence from Michigan State University. M.-P.Z. was supported by projects PID2019-104205GB-C21 of Ministry of Science and Innovation and MDM-2017-0737 Unidad de Excelencia ‘Maria de Maeztu’- Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA) (Spain).