ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects


Main Theme Minor bodies of the Solar System
Mission Responsibility ESA/JAXA
Launch Date Planned for 2017-2018
End of Mission TBD
Current phase Selection process


The joint ESA-JAXA Marco Polo mission is aimed at bringing samples taken from the surface of a Near Earth Object (NEO) back to Earth. The configuration under study involves the use of a "mother spacecraft" orbiter (equipped with remote sensing instrumentation of the system for acquiring samples and the re-entry capsule), a lander (equipped with instrumentation for the in situ description of the surface and possibly a system for gathering samples) and a pair of "hoppers" (equipped with cameras and thermometers). The selection of the gathering site of the samples is obtained through the characterization of the object carried out in orbit from the mother spacecraft and the in situ measurement carried out by the lander and "hoppers". The acquisition of the samples is done through a "touch and go" manoeuvre by the orbiter. The length of the operations near the NEO is planned for at least three months. The mother spacecraft will direct itself towards the Earth to release the capsule containing the samples into the atmosphere.


Scientific Objectives
The scientific objectives of the mission are well beyond the characterization of the single celestial body which is the object of the mission. In addition to going back to the events that have characterised its history, it is planned to obtain information relative to the origin and evolution of the Solar System. Having survived the aggregation phase that brought about the formation of the planets, the NEO has maintained the chemical and physical characteristics of the early "bricks" that were at the origin of the various bodies of the Solar System. In addition, through the analysis of equipment available on Earth of the samples, in addition to providing an answer to the above questions that cannot be answered with in situ techniques, it will enable the testing of recent theories of exobiology according to which complex organic molecules at the origin of the first biochemical compositions were brought to Earth with the carbonaceous chondrite which made up the early asteroids.


Italian Contribution
Italian scientists have a long-established experience in the study of early bodies of the Solar System and the analysis of material of extraterrestrial origin has played a role in the drawing up of the proposal together with their European and Japanese colleagues contributing in a significant manner to the definition of the mission's scientific objectives. Today various Italian scientists have submitted their own declaration of interest to ESA to develop instruments for this mission. A summary of these scientists follows:
• Mid-Infrared Specrometer PI Giancarlo Bellucci IFSI ROMA
• (VISTA)  Volatile In Situ Thermogravimetric Analyser PI Ernesto Palomba IFSI ROMA
• (NAHRIC) Narrow Angle High Resolution Imaging Camera PI Luigi Colangeli INAF


Moreover, Italy's experience, gained with the development of the Rosetta drill, is being considered for the future cquisition device of the lander samples and could allow, if funded, a good position for the development of the Fast Coring system on the orbiter.


International Agreements