Airbus is building the next Mars rover

An undated Nasa image of Mars

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.

The rover is supposed to roam the Martian wastelands, collect the samples from their locations then load them on into a single large canister on the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). With those funds, Airbus will develop its own Mars rover created to complete what NASA has started. The rocket will dock at the Mars Orbiter and come back to Earth, the report adds.

Airbus is perhaps known best as a manufacturer of civilian airplanes, though the Netherlands-based company has used its aeronautics know-how to expand into the helicopter market and open a Defence and Space division.

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". 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 deal is worth £3.9 million, which is over $5.1 million United States dollars, and follows on the heels of the Mars 2020 mission which will include another rover built by the same company.

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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.

David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, highlighted the significance of the proposed 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. These two elements will be critical parts of a mission to return samples of the planet Mars to Earth before the end of the next decade.

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".

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