Airbus is no stranger to rover designs and is already building the ExoMars rover, which is set to launch to Mars in 2021 and collect data from the planet. The vehicle will be called the Fetch Rover and it might be ready for launch by 2026.
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.
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 mission is a part of a collaboration between Nasa and ESA that was announced in April this year. Just getting to Mars is still one of the most challenging of space missions, but collecting samples and then returning them to Earth is a quantum leap of complexity.
The announcement was made by UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah, who said that Airbus has been awarded a 3.9 million GBP contract by the ESA. All of this has to be done autonomously.
The feasibility team at Airbus for this project mentions that it's going to be a relatively small rover that weighs around 130kg but will have to put up with demanding requirements which include covering large distances "using a high degree of autonomy, planning its own path ahead day after day".
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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.
It is estimated that the vehicle will take around 150 days to collect all the canisters, the report suggests.
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.
The story is based on a report by the BBC.
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