The Robotics Institute

RI | Seminar | September 26, 2008

Robotics Institute Seminar, September 26, 2008
Time and Place | Seminar Abstract | Speaker Biography | Speaker Appointments

Mars Sample Return (MSR)
Reflections on Why, How, and When



Terry Huntsberger

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Time and Place


Mauldin Auditorium (NSH 1305 )

Time: 3:30 to 4:30 pm




Unmanned sample return missions from the Moon have been demonstrated as far back as the 1970s with the Russian Luna series of landers. Recent findings returned from the NASA Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers, that have continued to operate on Mars for the last four and one half years, have provided strong evidence of prior water activity and possible conditions for pre-biotic life. These findings have led the international science community to call for renewed plans for a Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. Limitations on the mass and sophistication of science instruments due to mass and power constraints on planetary surface rovers have been a key element to the need for returning a sample to Earth for analysis with a wider set of techniques by a larger team of scientists. MSR is listed as a number one priority mission in the Decadal Report released by the National Academy of Science, and has become one of the primary NASA robotic mission drivers for the determination of early solar system evolution as well as current planetary processes.

There are currently at least four primary mission scenarios for sample return: (1) fixed sampling lander with ascent vehicle, (2) sampling rover with ascent vehicle, (3) sampling rover coupled with a fixed lander with ascent vehicle, and (4) cache recovery rover coupled with a fixed lander with ascent vehicle. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) due to launch in 2009 currently has a cache container on board in order to obtain and save a variety of samples from diverse sites and to open up the possibility of option 4. On the other hand, a smaller sampling rover with good mobility coupled with a fixed lander will offer the greatest coverage of a diverse set of science sites.

This talk will cover the rationale for undertaking a MSR mission, some previous planning, technology development, and field testing for this type of mission, and the recent developments on the international scene for a collaborative mission in the 2018 to 2020 timeframe.


Speaker Biography


Dr. Terry Huntsberger is a Principal Member of the Robotic and Mobility Systems Section at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he leads several efforts in the area of autonomous system development. He is one of the primary developers of CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing) that is an autonomous multi-agent system for sensor/behavior fusion. Since 1999, he has been involved with the planning, technology development, and field testing of planetary rover systems for Mars Sample Return. He was the primary developer of advanced technologies for autonomous approach, rendezvous, and docking with natural and man-made targets as applied to Mars Sample Return under the FIDO rover task from 1999 to 2003, and current projects include the development of autonomous control for the Cliffbot ensemble, a multi-rover system for acquisition and caching of astrobiological samples from steep, rough terrain. Prior to joining JPL in 1999, Dr. Huntsberger was an Associate Professor and Founder/Director of the Intelligent Systems Laboratory in the Department of Computer Science at the University of South Carolina (currently an Adjunct Full Professor). He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of South Carolina in 1978.


Speaker Appointments


For appointments, please contact John Dolan (

The Robotics Institute is part of the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.