Airbus to build rover for Mars Sample Return mission

Report reveals outdated NASA policy poses contamination risk for Earth universe

Aerospace company Airbus has been awarded a £3.9 million (about $5.2 million, AU$7 million) contract to design a new Mars rover.

While ExoMars is created to carry several instruments, the Fetch has only one mission- to find Nasa's 2020 rover, collect samples, and bring it back to Earth, according to release.

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".

As a third part of the mission, ESA's Earth Return Orbiter, will capture the basketball sized sample container orbiting Mars, seal it within a biocontainment system, and bring the samples back to Earth.

In 2026, the recovery mission will be launched by Nasa and land a rocket on Mars carrying the Fetch rover.

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"This remarkable new project, which will see samples brought back from Mars to Earth for the first time ever, demonstrates Britain's world-leading scientific and engineering innovation", says Britain's Science Minister Sam Gyimah. Fetch will then return to its lander, which has a cylinder attached to it that contains a Mars Ascent Vehicle. "The mission is technologically very challenging, but the prospect of seeing a sample of Mars returning to Earth is very exciting".

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. "A double first of launching from the planet's surface and the in-orbit transfer of the samples means it will be possible for the first time to directly study Mars soil in laboratories on Earth".

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.

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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