Mars Sample Return


In the early 2000’s, NASA began to work on a Mars Sample Return Mission. At that time, Payload Systems, Inc., was developing a Cell Culture Unit (CCU), also for NASA, that would enable the study of cell growth in microgravity on board the ISS. The technology being developed for CCU appeared to be well suited for the handling and analysis of fine Martian samples and so NASA commissioned a project to study the technology transfer applicability and the generation of a conceptual approach for the development of a Contained Sample Handling and Analysis System (CSHAS). In this early stage project, Marco Serra of Engenya covered the role of lead systems architect.

The CSHAS was envisioned to provide all of the materials transport, data management and process scheduling functions between the various modules of the Sample Receiving Facility (SRF), as well as some of the specialized analysis modules including Cell Culturing, Sample Banks, Microscopy and Materials Incubation. The system would also provide standard interfaces for third party modules required to conduct a host of additional analyses and services.

The general functional requirements for this system were extracted from NASA’s “Draft Test Protocol For Detecting Possible Biohazards In Martian Samples Returned To Earth” (NASA/CP-2002-211842). These requirements were interpreted and classified to serve as a formal guide for the evaluation and development of functional and system architectures, for the assessment of feasibility in CCU technology transfer as well as identification of required new technology development, and for guidance in the development of demonstrative concepts.

One of the key characteristics of a SRF and the CSHAS that will operate within it, is the stringent requirement for biological protection.  The materials that are returned must not be allowed to come into contact with the earth environment as they may pose a biological threat. At the same time, the samples must be protected from contamination to ensure that anything that is detected does in fact come from Mars.  To maintain multiple levels of isolation throughout the process is not trivial and existing technologies were identified that would simplify the integration of this functionality with the existing CCU technology.
After developing the SRF, CSHAS and module architectures and basic system concepts, technology transfer feasibility and risk assessments were conducted. This identified which CCU technology components could be transferred directly, which would need to be evolved and where completely new development was required. Ultimately, a report was delivered to NASA that would present a feasible path to incorporate CCU technology in the SRF along with conceptual applications of the recommended solutions.

CSHAS's Modular Architecture


Ex.: Module Functional Architecture


Ex.: Module Specification