Airbus to design new Mars rover

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ESA's rover will then load the samples into a container, which will be launched into orbit and collected by the Earth Return Orbiter.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has issued contracts for technology proposals to build a Mars rover to collect soil samples, and a return orbiter craft to bring them safely home.

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.

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. 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 tubes will be handed off to the rocket which will then blast off and hopefully make its way back to Earth. This will mark the first time Mars samples have been delivered to our own planet. It'll a number of years before we see Mars samples arrive on Earth, however.

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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. The difference is that where Curiosity does all its analysis using its onboard laboratories, Mars 2020 will collect samples and drop them along the way inside of 36 pen-sized metal containers. 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.

"Bringing samples back from Mars is essential in more than one way". With a budget of $5.2, ESA has approved for Airbus to design a concept of the rover that will be able to collect the Martian soil.

For some time now, both NASA and its European counterpart, ESA, are working on setting up a so-called Mars sample-return mission.

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