Airbus is building the next Mars rover

An undated Nasa image of Mars

An undated Nasa image of Mars

Unlike the two rovers NASA now has operating on Mars, Airbus' rover will be able to ship samples back to Earth, giving scientists physical access to soil and rock dust from the Red Planet.

Airbus has won two studies from the European Space Agency (ESA) to design a Sample Fetch Rover and an Earth Return Orbiter.

One thing very high on the bucket list of any space scientist is getting one's hands on a sample of Martian soil.

The rover will be created to collect soil sample canisters left behind by NASA's Mars 2020 rover, and will have to detect these canisters and place them in its storage space after driving to them autonomously.

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

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.

NASA's Mars 2020 rover is going to dig up soil samples and store them in more than 30 tubes which will be dropped at various points. The vehicle will then film it when the rocket blasts off, recording the first liftoff from Mars.

Then, a second NASA launch will send the Sample Return Lander mission to land a platform near the Mars 2020 site.

Once in Earth orbit, the samples will be transferred into an Earth entry capsule. The samples will land somewhere in the United States by 2030 before being distributed to laboratories throughout the world. 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. Winning this contract builds on the UK's world-renowned expertise in space and robotics which the government is supporting through the UK Space Agency and the major investments in our modern Industrial Strategy. The Airbus team based in Stevenage, England was selected because it's already building the ExoMars rover which is due to head to Mars in 2021.

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