European Space Agency Taps Airbus for Mars Sample Return Mission

Airbus tapped to design Fetch Mars rover

The European Space Agency (ESA) has granted Airbus a $5.2-million contract to design a new Mars rover.

Airbus in Stevenage, England will design a rover aimed at collecting Martian soil samples and returning them to Earth. With those funds, Airbus will develop its own Mars rover created to complete what NASA has started.

Airbus is perhaps known best as a manufacturer of civilian airplanes, though the Netherlands-based company has used its aeronautics know-how to expand into the helicopter market and open a Defence and Space division. "The close collaboration between the United Kingdom and ESA will place Britain at the forefront of innovative missions to explore the Moon, Mars and beyond", said Peake.

Landing a rover on Mars is a hard task, but it pales in comparison to the incredible challenge of sending material from the planet back to Earth. The first will be NASA's Mars 2020 mission, which will explore the surface of the planet, pick-up and store a set of samples in canisters placed in strategic areas.

The third component of the mission is the Earth Return Orbiter, which will capture the sample container, seal it within a biocontainment system, and return the samples to Earth.

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In 2026, the recovery mission will be launched by Nasa and land a rocket on Mars carrying the Fetch rover.

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David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, highlighted the significance of the proposed mission.

"This remarkable new project, which will see samples brought back from Mars to Earth for the first time ever, demonstrates Britain's world-leading scientific and engineering innovation", says Britain's Science Minister Sam Gyimah.

It could take around 150 days for the fetch rover to retrieve all the canisters left by Mars 2020 rover. Fetch will then return to its lander, which has a cylinder attached to it that contains a Mars Ascent Vehicle.

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