NASA Plans to Bring to Earth a Piece of Mars

Christopher Davidson
July 11, 2018

Airbus, which has always been partnered with space agencies in the USA and overseas, has just won a huge contract from the European Space Agency to build a rover that will facilitate such a mission. 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.

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.

The lander rocket will then rendezvous with the orbiter module above Mars and return the samples to Earth.

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". The deal is worth £3.9 million, which is over $5.1 million Dollars, and follows on the heels of the Mars 2020 mission which will include another rover built by the same company. The goal is to have machines on Mars by the end of the next decade collecting samples and sending them back to Earth.

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The job of the preceding Mars 2020 rover will be to drill and dig up soil samples and to place them in more than 30 tubes at various points. The Sample Fetch Rover will pick up the sample tubes, carry them back and load them into a sample container within the waiting Mars Ascent Vehicle.

According to ESA, the mission will require three launches. The objective of the container is to make sure that the samples not only survive, but that the samples will neither be contaminated by Earth microbes or the Earth by any microbes it might contain. The Airbus team based in Stevenage, England was selected because it's already building the ExoMars rover which is due to head to Mars in 2021.

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

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