Marco Polo - Near Earth Object Sample Return. Technology readiness for Cosmic Vision.

Lead Research Organisation: The Open University
Department Name: PSSRI (Planetary & Space Sciences RI)


Marco Polo is a joint European/Japanese mission proposed for the European Space Agency's 'Cosmic Vision' programme for launch between 2015 and 2025. The primary objective is to return unaltered materials from a primitive Near Earth Object (NEO) to the Earth. NEOs are part of the small body population that represents the primitive leftover building blocks (embryos) of the Solar System formation process. They offer important clues to the chemical mixture from which the planets formed about 4.6 billion years ago and carry records both of the Solar System's birth/early phases and of the geological evolution of small bodies. This mission will provide the first opportunity for detailed laboratory study of the most primitive materials that formed the terrestrial planets and advance our understanding of some of the fundamental issues in the origin and early evolution of the Solar System and possibly life itself. Marco Polo aims to: * Determine the physical and chemical properties of the target body, which are representative of the planetesimals (planetary building blocks) present in the cloud of gas and dust that surrounded the developing Sun, * Identify the major events which influenced the history of the target NEO, * Determine the elemental and mineralogical properties of the NEO and place them in the geological context of the surface. * Search for new types of interstellar grains that pre-date the Solar System and provide clues to their origin in stars and their evolution in inter-stellar clouds. * Investigate the nature and origin of organic compounds on the target body and identify those which may reveal the origin of pre-biotic molecules on the Earth. Although we already have samples of asteroids in our terrestrial meteorite collections which have provided important scientific clues to the objectives listed above they have suffered terrestrial contamination and weathering, and the most primitive material does not survive the process of entry into the Earth's atmosphere. A sample return mission to a primitive asteroid will return new types of material for laboratory study, collected and stored under optimum conditions, linked to a specific source body with geological context. Terrestrial laboratories provide high precision & accuracy, allow complex sample selection and preparation, the ability to analyse the same sample using many techniques and retention of material for future advancements, none of which are possible with experiments at the target. However the spacecraft will provide physical and mineralogical measurements over the whole NEO to provide geological context for the returned samples and allow us to study large scale processes, such as the history of impacts and geological disruption. This proposal is for funds to support preparatory activities in the UK to maximise the science return and ensure good UK participation for scientists and industry in the Marco Polo Mission if it is selected. This proposal is a revised version requesting funds awarded by PPRP.


10 25 50

publication icon
KOSCHNY D (2010) Marco Polo - A Mission to Return a Sample from a Near-Earth Object - Science Requirements and Operational Scenarios in TRANSACTIONS OF THE JAPAN SOCIETY FOR AERONAUTICAL AND SPACE SCIENCES, AEROSPACE TECHNOLOGY JAPAN

publication icon
Koschny, D. (2009) Marco Polo Science Requirements Document in MP-RSSD-RS-001/2b

publication icon
Marco-Polo Study Team (2009) Payload Definition Document in ESA SCI-PA/2008.002/Marco-Polo

publication icon
Michel, P. (2009) The Marco Polo mission: a sample return from a low-albedo Near Earth Object in the ESA Cosmic Vision Program 2015-2025. in Proceedings of the 1st IAA Planetary Defense Conference: Protecting the Earth from Asteroids, 2009

Description Development of mission design for asteroid sample return including scientific objectives, spacecraft design, instrument payload design, operations plan, sample curation and analysis plans.
Documentation was completed for the the selection process for ESA's Cosmic Vision M1/M2 opportunity. The mission was highly rated scientifically but was not selected for flight.
Exploitation Route Development of future missions: Directly led to MarcoPolo-R mission proposal and further industioral contracts/studies with Astrium UK (Airbvus D&S UK).
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine

Description Economic/societal impact has not yet been realised. Although the funded research was to develop a design and case for a proposed mission in the ESA science programme, which was not ultimately selected, it has led to further funding bids and industry collaborations that place UK industry in a stronger position for future asteroid/phobos samplie missions and associated technology development.
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine
Description Rolling Grant
Amount £3,447,330 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/1001964/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2011 
End 03/2014
Description Studentship
Amount £22,552 (GBP)
Organisation Thales Group 
Department Thales Alenia Space
Sector Private
Country France
Start 01/2009 
End 01/2012
Description Astrium UK (Airbus Defence & Space) NEA 
Organisation Airbus Group
Department Airbus Defence & Space
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Ongoing collaboration on a range of Near Erath Asteroid Mission related projects: - ATLAS: Report proposing a programme for the survey, exploration and hazard assessment of Near Earth Objects, by a consortium of workers in UK science and industry (2000-2001) - ISHTAR: Science team for ESA contract study (lead: Astrium) (2002-2003): Asteroid Science input to study/proposal - Apies: ESA contract study (2002-2004) on multi-spacecraft mission: Asteroid Science input to study/proposal - Marco-Polo: ESA M1/2 Mission study (2007-2009): Science input to sampling mechanism design. Production of analogue regolith for mechanism testing. - MarcoPolo-R: ESA M3 mission study (2011-2013): Science input for mission studies. - CREST-2 NEO/Mars sampling mechanism study: Science input and regolith analogue for microgravity test flight experiment design.
Collaborator Contribution - ATLAS: Industry input to study - ISHTAR: ESA contract lead, mission design. - Apies: ESA contract lead, mission design. - Marco-Polo: ESA Mission study contractor. Spacecraft and mission design, sampling mechanism development work. - MarcoPolo-R: ESA Mission study contractor. Spacecraft and mission design, sampling mechanism development work. - CREST-2: Industry lead: Microgravity flight experiment design.
Impact Report for UK research Councils and agencies: The Atlas Programme. Understanding the Threat from Near-Earth Objects, 26pp, 2001. ESA mission study reports. NEA sampling mechanism designs. NEA Regolith analogues. Although no direct financial contribution has been made by the collaborating organisation, the collaboration has resulted in joint award of funding from a third party.
Start Year 2006
Description Conference presentations - MarcoPolo-R 2006-2010 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact *Green, S.F. Summary of the meeting. Presented at International Symposium Marco Polo and other Small Body Sample Return Missions, Paris, 18-20 May 2009. On-line publication of presentations at

*Green, S.F., Barucci, M.A., Yoshikawa, M., Koschny, D., Böhnhardt, H., Brucato, J.R., Coradini, M., Dotto, E., Franchi, I.A., Josset, J.-L., Kawaguchi, J., Michel, P., Muinonen, K., Oberst, J., Yano, H., Binzel, R.P. Marco Polo: Near-Earth Object Sample Return Mission. Presented at NAM 2008, Belfast, 30 Mar - 4 April 2008. Abstract P25/208, Conference Guide and abstracts volume p80, 2008.

*Green, S.F., Franchi, I. MARCO-POLO - Near Earth Object Sample Return Mission. Presented at RAS Robert Hutchison memorial meeting, London, 12 Oct 2007.

Final presentation to ESA committees and community, Paris, January 2010:

Co-author for manny talks by MarcoPolo Science team members. See website below for details.

Informed international science community of mission and science objectives.

Strong community support for mission.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008,2009,2010
Description MarcoPolo and MarcoPolo-R conferences/workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact 2013 MarcoPolo-R Workshop: The unique value of the target 2008 EV5. Co convener. Special session SMW1.3 at EPSC 2013, London, 9 Sep.
2013 The Science of MarcoPolo-R. 03-04 Jun 2013, ESA/ESTEC. Scientific Organising Committee.
2013 Astrobiological and cosmochemical implications of Marco Polo-R sampling of a primitive asteroid. Barcelona, 16-17th January 2013. Scientific Organising Committee.
2012 Cosmochemistry of primitive bodies: The need for MarcoPolo-R - a European sample return space mission. Paris, 17-18 December, 2012, Scientific Organising Committee.
2012 3rd MarcoPolo-R Symposium 2012. Scientific Objectives of MarcoPolo-R near-Earth asteroid sample return mission. 26 March 2012, Manchester, U.K. Organiser.
2012 Small Bodies in Our Solar System session at national Astronomy Meeting, Manchester, 27-30 March 2012. Session co-organiser.
2011 Scientific and technological aspects of a sample return mission to a Near Earth Asteroid: the ESA Cosmic Vision M3 mission MarcoPolo-R. ESA-ESRIN, Frascati, Italy. 9-10 June 2011. Scientific Organising Committee.
2009 International Marco Polo Symposium, 11-13 May 2009 Paris, France. Scientific Organising Committee. Symposium summary presenter.

Between ~50 and ~200 attendees for international science community.

Meetings provided impetus for setting up of working groups for scientists to collaborate on aspects of mission science. Membership of groups rose after meetings. Outputs of groups used for preparation of ESA "Yellow Book" to evaluate mission selection.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2011,2012,2013
Description Popular talks & lectures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 2009 - 27 Oct: Lecture to Stratford astronomical society: Audience of around 50.
2012 - 26 July. Science Oxford. "Missions to asteroids: Exploring our origins and Saving the World!" Audience ~25.
2012 - 6 October. Joint BAA Asteroids-Comets Section meeting. The Open University. "Sample return from asteroids and comets" Audience ~80.
2013 - Apr 5-7. Alfred Curtis Memorial Lecture, BAA Winchester Weekend meeting."Near-Earth Asteroids - A matter of life and death?" Audience ~120.
2013 - May 17. Saras. Scarborough. Audience ~30. "Missions to asteroids - exploring our origins and saving the world!"
2014 - Apr. 9. "Near Earth Asteroids - A matter of Life and Death?" OU Live talk. The Open University
2014 - Aug 27. "Space mission studies of dust in comets", Bedford Astronomical Society.
2014 - Nov 4th. Open University Astronomy Club. "Missions to asteroids - exploring our origins and saving the world!"
Results: Raised awareness of asteroid science. Audience discussion on asteroids and the impact hazard.

Single entry to cover popular talks to astronomical societies and other amateur organisations.
Outcomes: Interest in opportunities for study (Open University short modules, residential schools (pre-2011), degrees (No information available to judge take-up). Further invitations to speak.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009,2012,2013,2014
Description Radio broadcasts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC World Service. Recorded interview on Near Earth Asteroids for Science in Action. 30 Jan. Broadcast on 1 Feb.

BBC 3 Counties Radio. The Nine-O'clock Show. Interview by Ronnie Barbour on asteroid impact shield. 10 December 2008.

BBC Radio Cambridge. 8 Feb. Interview on "The Naked Scientist". Broadcast live in east region and recorded for web and future broadcasts.

Unknown impact as I don't know viewing figures or talk to listeners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008,2013
Description Sky At Night TV inverview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Several broadcasts of programme reaching national audience.
Astronomy and planetary science enthuses many young (and older) people - continued exposure through the media helps increase interest in study of the subject and boosts training of future scientists and engineers.

Unknown impact as I don't know viewing figures or talk to viewers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008