Challenges of Designing the MarsNEXT Network
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In the European Space Agency's Aurora Programme, Europe has clearly identified the exploration of Mars as one of its main objectives, to contribute to the international effort on the exploration of the solar system. With the ExoMars mission due for launch in 2013, and the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission foreseen for the 2020 timeframe, the European Space Agency (ESA) is considering the opportunity between these two events for an intermediate mission - the so-called NEXT (Next Exploration Science and Technology) mission. One of two mission concepts considered for NEXT is a Mars mission demonstrating aerobraking and rendezvous/capture in Mars orbit, and to deliver a Network of Science Probes. The surface mission aims to deploy a network of three identical landers in the 100-125 kg range, which will perform simultaneous measurements in order to study the internal structure, sub-surface, and atmosphere of Mars. This will be the first mission of its kind. The payload is comprised of 9 instruments derived from an international cooperative. The landing site will be determined in a trade-off between scientific objectives and technical constraints, and currently all landing sites between -30 degrees and +30 degrees latitude are considered. Each Network Science Probe comprises two main sub-assemblies: the Surface Module, and the Entry, Descent and Landing System (EDLS). The EDLS is based on a parachute system, retro-rockets and unvented airbags. When the Network Science Probe is released from its cocoon of gas-filled bags the impact onto the Martian surface could be in any orientation. Therefore, the surface module will be similar to the clam-like structure of Beagle 2. Once opened, one half of the shell will deploy the solar panels, while the other half will contain the instruments and electronics. Most of the electronics are kept in an insulated box with an RHU to ensure thermal survival during the Martian night, as well as throughout the Global Dust Storm Season. Communications are nominally via an orbiter spacecraft, but for contingency a direct link to Earth is implemented. This paper describes in more detail the science that can be achieved with this type of mission and how to overcome the challenges of surviving a year on the Martian surface - which could include a Global Dust Storm Season. It also includes a description of the EDLS, thermal architecture, power system, communication systems, operations and planetary protection.