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European Space Agency Taps Airbus for Mars Sample Return Mission

11 July 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.

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 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. While the 2020 rover design is based on Curiosity, it will collect and deposit samples for the Fetch Rover to retrieve and bring back to Earth, rather than conduct onboard analysis as Curiosity does.

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ESA's ExoMars orbiter, which will act as a relay satellite for the Sample Return mission. The Mars 2020 rover is on the search for, amongst other things, signs of past microbial life on the martian surface and is set for launch in July/August 2020. The goal is to have machines on Mars by the end of the next decade collecting samples and sending them back to Earth.

It is in fact three separate missions that all depend on one another.

The Mars 2020 rover's task is to dig and contain the soil sample into 30 tubes and dropping them at various point around the planet.

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The rover, designed by Airbus, will then head to Mars in 2026 and would have to find the tubes from a distance, autonomously drive to the location, collect them with the help of robotic arms, keep them inside in its storage space. "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.

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.

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European Space Agency Taps Airbus for Mars Sample Return Mission