A mission to return samples from Mars isn’t an easy task! The European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA have finally agreed to find how far will it be possible to bring Martian soil samples back to Earth. ESA has awarded Airbus $5.2 million to design a rover that can collect samples on the red planet.
The Airbus team is already constructing the ExoMars rover in Stevenage, England, that is scheduled to head to the red planet in 2021. The fetch rover’s task is to find and collect the canisters of samples NASA’s Mars 2020 rover prepares and leaves behind.
Unfortunately, that’s one of those things that seems to be easier said than done. Getting to Mars is always challenging, but collecting samples and returning them to Earth is a quantum leap of complications.
It will be a relatively small rover about 130kg; but the requirements are very demanding. The vehicle needs to cover a large distance as it plans its own path ahead each and everyday. – Ben Boyes, the leader of Airbus
It is, in fact, three separate missions that all depend on one another. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which is expected to take off in July 2020, will rove over the Martian landscape much like the Curiosity rover that it’s based on. It will drill and dig up soil samples to put in over 30 tubes and will then drop them at various points.
The Airbus Mars rover, which could return to the planet in 2026, will have to be able to identify them from a distance, autonomously drive to their location, pick them up with a robotic arm and then keep them in its storage space, which is supposedly a 36 pen-sized storage containers.
Fetch rover will then return to its lander; it has a cylinder attached to it that contains a Mars Ascent Vehicle. After the installation of the box in the rocket, the latter will flash off into orbit around Mars.
If this all goes the way it is expected, then the ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter will collect the tasters and seal them away inside an armored isolated container to protect it on the journey back to Earth. The containers will not only make the samples survive but also keep the samples free from contamination by Earth’s microbes that it might hold. The samples are predicted to land in the United States by 2030 before it gets distributed to laboratories throughout the world.
This remarkable project if it succeeds will be the first-ever mission to bring samples from Mars to Earth. We too hope that the pursuing mission succeeds so that we can further study on the curious Red Planet, of course only if the agencies succeed in developing the technologies needed to pursue the mission.