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

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

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

That is, however, only half the job, because those samples will have to be brought back to Earth for study.

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

A concept image of the rover designed by Airbus is below. The idea is to have this fetch rover on Mars by 2026 where it will be able to detect those canisters from a distance, drive to their location on its own, pick them up with the help of a robotic arm, and then keep them in a storage space. The first will be NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which is scheduled to lift off in July 2020 atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. It'll a number of years before we see Mars samples arrive on Earth, however. The company's Autonomous Systems Group will also be contributing to the ESA Mars rover mission.

Clearly it would be a mission of huge firsts for humanity, but the real action will start once the samples show up here on Earth. "Firstly to understand why Mars, although it is the planet that is most similar to Earth, took a very different evolutionary path than Earth and secondly to fully comprehend the Martian environment in order to allow humans to one day work and live on the Red Planet", he said. The difference is that where Curiosity does all its analysis using its onboard laboratories, Mars 2020 will collect samples and drop them along the way inside of 36 pen-sized metal containers.

"One rover bound for Mars in 2020 is already under construction by Airbus in Stevenage and the knowledge and expertise honed there will now be applied to designing this new mission, which aims to safely deliver - for the first time - material to Earth from another planet". Its sole objective will be to find and collect the canisters of Martian soil samples that NASA's Mars 2020 rover prepares and leaves behind. "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.