• Calathus: A sample-return mission to Ceres

      Gassot, Oriane; Panicucci, Paolo; Acciarini, Giacomo; Bates, HC; Caballero, Manel; Cambianica, Pamela; Dziewiecki, Maciej; Dionnet, Zelia; Enengl, Florine; Gerig, Selina-Barbara; et al. (Elsevier BV, 2021-01-12)
      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.