The Airbus spacecraft will have to manoeuvre itself into a position to capture these samples that will be packaged inside a football-sized container.
After ingesting this container, the satellite must then prepare it for return to Earth.
This means not only shipping it across hundred of millions of km of space, but also putting the football inside a re-entry capsule that can be dropped into Earth’s atmosphere to land in an American desert.
This would be, indeed, a feat of engineering as well as a first in interplanetary exploration.
But I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an “interplanetary cargo ship.” Unless the intention is to maintain it as a permanent link between research locations (i.e., some kind of permanent orbitor stationed above the Jezero Crater) and research facilities on Earth (or the Moon, or the International Space Station).
Political will is needed in addition to the enormous funding. Semi-privatization, anyone?
August 2, 2020 at 11:01 pm
So the ONLY WAY to transport rocks from the surface is by mini-rocket? Really? Take a tip from the CIA, James Bond, and Batman. Attach a cable to it with an inflatable balloon. Then use a drone to skyhook it and reel it in.
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August 2, 2020 at 11:52 pm
Obviously a space elevator á là Kim Stanley Robinson and/or a way station on Phobos or Deimos is preferable long-term. But orbiting drone payload catchers is a nifty short-term idea.