Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Airbus to build rover for Mars Sample Return mission

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Cary Marshall | 11 July, 2018, 20:20

The European Space Agency (ESA) have teamed up with Airbus to design a new rover that will head to Mars and retrieve the first ever martian soil samples from the planet to be later brought back safely to Earth for analysis.

The new rover will be designed at Airbus's site in the United Kingdom town of Stevenage, just north of London, and is another boon to the UK's burgeoning space sector, which is now worth an estimated £13.7 billion to the nation's economy.

Then, a second NASA launch will send the Sample Return Lander mission to land a platform near the Mars 2020 site. NASA and ESA signed a letter of intent in April 2018 to pursue a Mars Sample Return mission. Other projects in-development include a sun-observing satellite (Solar Orbiter) and a near-infrared telescope for observing dark matter.

Simultaneously, ESA's ExoMars rover will be drilling below the Martian surface to search for evidence of life, and the ExoMars orbiter now sampling Mars' atmosphere will form a crucial part of the communications infrastructure for the Sample Return mission, for which it will act as a relay satellite. The fetch rover must be able to detect the sample tubes from a distance, drive to the sample location autonomously, pick them up using its robotic arm and then keep those samples in its storage unit. The company's Autonomous Systems Group will also be contributing to the ESA Mars rover mission.

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The Mars 2020 rover's task is to dig and contain the soil sample into 30 tubes and dropping them at various point around the planet.

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".

It could take around 150 days for the fetch rover to retrieve all the canisters left by Mars 2020 rover.

If all goes according to plan, the first samples of Martian soil on Earth before the end of the next decade - and the first footage of a liftoff from Mars.

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