Published: Wed, July 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By Brandy Patterson

Plans for a future Mars rover to return soil samples to Earth

Plans for a future Mars rover to return soil samples to Earth

The brief came from the European Space Agency (ESA), with the aim of collecting and transporting soil samples left by the planned 2020 Mars rover - also now in construction between ESA and Airbus.

The second mission, ESA's Fetch, launches in 2026 and is tasked with retracing Mars 2020's path and collect these sample containers, which it will be placed inside a "box of delights".

If all goes well, a third mission, ESA's Earth Return Orbiter, will be on station to collect the samples and seal them away inside an armored, biologically isolated container to protect it on the trip back to Earth.

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The European Space Agency (ESA) has granted Airbus a £3.9 million contract to design a rover, which will collect Martian soil samples and bring them back to earth safely.

Ben Boyes, who will lead the feasibility team at Airbus, explained that Fetch will be a relatively small rover - about 130 kg - but what is required of it is very demanding.

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.

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The rover will be created to collect soil sample canisters left behind by NASA's Mars 2020 rover, and will have to detect these canisters and place them in its storage space after driving to them autonomously. The company's Autonomous Systems Group will also be contributing to the ESA Mars rover mission. The ship will be captured in Martian orbit by ESA's Earth Return Orbiter and then head home. 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. Fetch will then return to its lander, which has a cylinder attached to it that contains a Mars Ascent Vehicle.

David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, said: "Bringing samples back from Mars is essential in more than one way". This will mark the first time Mars samples have been delivered to our own planet.

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