Airbus tapped to design Fetch Mars rover

An undated Nasa image of Mars

An undated Nasa image of Mars

The European Space Agency (ESA) has granted Airbus a $5.2-million contract to design a new Mars rover. Unlike the two rovers NASA now has operating on Mars, Airbus' rover will be able to ship samples back to Earth, giving scientists physical access to soil and rock dust from the Red Planet.

Airbus is working on a rover that will collect soil from Mars and bring it back to Earth, according to reports.

That vehicle will put the samples into orbit, after which point they'll be transferred to a spacecraft that will return them to Earth.

For some time now, both NASA and its European counterpart, ESA, are working on setting up a so-called Mars sample-return mission. The company's Autonomous Systems Group will also be contributing to the ESA Mars rover mission.

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Sample Fetch Rover will launch in 2026, tasked with transporting the samples loading them into a basketball-sized container inside the ESA's Mars Ascent Vehicle, which will then launch from the Martian surface to loft the samples into orbit. These two elements will be critical parts of a mission to return samples of the planet Mars to Earth before the end of the next decade. The Mars 2020 rover is on the search for, amongst other things, signs of past microbial life on the martian surface and is set for launch in July/August 2020.

Ben Boyes, Project Manager by Airbus for the Sample Fetch Rover study, said: "With the combined expertise of ESA and NASA, this landmark mission is ambitious and technologically very advanced, with two rovers interacting together on Mars for the first time".

David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, said: "Bringing samples back from Mars is essential in more than one way".

It is estimated that it could take up to 150 days for the fetch rover to retrieve all the canisters that the 2020 rover leaves behind, before it locates the rocket it landed with, and films the Earth Return Orbiter's takeoff. The tubes will be handed off to the rocket which will then blast off and hopefully make its way back to Earth.

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