Calathus: A sample-return mission to Ceres

Oriane Gassot, Paolo Panicucci, Giacomo Acciarini, Helena Bates, Manel Caballero, Pamela Cambianica, Maciej Dziewiecki, Zelia Dionnet, Florine Enengl, Selina-Barbara Gerig, Felix Hessinger, Lucy Kissick, Moritz Novak, Carmine Pellegrino, Angèle Pontoni, Tânia M.Ribeiro, Clemens Riegler, Nini Berge, Nikolaus Huber, Richard Hynek, Bartosz Kędziora, Adam Kiss, Maurice Martin, Javier Navarro Montilla

Acta Astronautica
Available online 12 January 2021



• Two main scientific topics are identified on Ceres: astrobiology and Ceres’ origin.
• Calathus is proposed to be the first sample return mission to Ceres.
• Analyses will be performed from the sample to answer the scientific topics.
• Mission requirements, budgets, risk analysis, and cost estimates are presented.
• The feasibility of the design is addressed from the system engineering approach.”

“Ceres, as revealed by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, is an ancient, crater-saturated body dominated by low-albedo clays. Yet, localised sites display a bright, carbonate mineralogy that may be as young as 2 Myr. The largest of these bright regions (faculae) are found in the 92 km Occator Crater, and would have formed by the eruption of alkaline brines from a subsurface reservoir of fluids. The internal structure and surface chemistry suggest that Ceres is an extant host for a number of the known prerequisites for terrestrial biota, and as such, represents an accessible insight into a potentially habitable “ocean world”. In this paper, the case and the means for a return mission to Ceres are outlined, presenting the Calathus mission to return to Earth a sample of the Occator Crater faculae for high-precision laboratory analyses. Calathus consists of an orbiter and a lander with an ascent module: the orbiter is equipped with a high-resolution camera, a thermal imager, and a radar; the lander contains a sampling arm, a camera, and an on-board gas chromatograph mass spectrometer; and the ascent module contains vessels for four cerean samples, collectively amounting to a maximum 40 g. Upon return to Earth, the samples would be characterised via high-precision analyses to understand the salt and organic composition of the Occator faculae, and from there to assess both the habitability and the evolution of a relict ocean world from the dawn of the Solar System.”