MarcoPolo-R is a mission that aims to bring back to Earth a pristine sample from a primitive near-Earth asteroid (NEA). It was proposed as a candidate M-class mission in response to the 2010 call for medium-size (M-class) missions for ESA's Cosmic Vision plan. In February 2011, it was shortlisted for study as one of the four candidate M3 missions.
The MarcoPolo-R proposal is based on a previous mission study - a mission called Marco Polo - that was selected for assessment after an earlier call for Cosmic Vision missions.
The Marco-Polo-R mission scenario and spacecraft design have been analysed in an internal ESA study at the Concurrent Design Facility at ESA's European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC). As a follow-up, detailed phase A industrial studies were carried out and completed in August 2013. They confirmed the feasibility and cost-efficiency of the mission design. The mission involves innovative capabilities of interest to ESA planetary programmes, such as accurate navigation around an asteroid, asteroid sampling and high-speed Earth re-entry that all have reached an adequate level of maturity.
Five science instruments were selected in February 2013 following a competitive open Announcement of Opportunity for the scientific payload and elements of the ground segment for MarcoPolo-R. They consist of: a narrow angle camera – MaNAC, led by INAF/Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova, Italy; a visible/near-IR spectrometer – MaRIS, led by LESIA/Observatoire de Paris, France; a mid-IR spectrometer, led by Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, France; a close-up camera – CUC, led by Space Exploration Institute, Switzerland; a radio science experiment – RSE, led by Universität der Bundeswehr, Munich, Germany; a volatile and dust sensor - VISTA 2, led by INAF/IAPS, Rome, Italy. The instrument studies ran until September 2013.
On 21 January 2014, the five M3 candidate missions were presented to the scientific community, in Paris, France. The ESA Science Programme Committee selected PLATO as the third medium-class mission at their meeting on 19 February 2014.