NASA Plans to Bring to Earth a Piece of Mars

An undated Nasa image of Mars

The United Kingdom has announced a new deal with Airbus that will have it develop a special Mars rover for the European Space Agency (ESA).

Both Sample Fetch Rover and Earth Return Orbiter are part of ESA-NASA's proposed Mars Sample Return mission that is looking to be approved at the 2019 ESA council at ministerial level.

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". "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".

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 Mars Sample Return mission is a joint initiative between the ESA and NASA.

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David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration at ESA, highlighted the significance of the proposed mission.

In 2020, NASA will send a rover to Mars, which will search for interesting materials. The team is already working on the ExoMars rover, which will reach Mars in 2021. 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.

"I am very pleased that with these two studies now being commissioned and in combination with other studies conducted elsewhere in Europe we make another important step to explore Mars".

It will then have to return to the rocket which transported it to the planet, move the canisters into it, and film the rocket as it takes off from the surface.

If all goes according to plan, the first samples of Martian soil on Earth before the end of the next decade - and the first footage of a liftoff from Mars.

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