Airbus UK wins contract for Sample-Return Mars Rover

Hard on the heels – or wheels! – of the “Rosalind Franklin” rover, Stevenage-based Airbus UK has secured the next part of a design study contract (Advanced B2), from the European Space Agency, for the Mars Sample Fetch Rover, as part of Mars Sample Return, a collaborative effort between ESA and NASA to collect soil samples from Mars for return to Earth. The initial phase A and following B1 studies have been proceeding at Stevenage since July 2018.

In this campaign, the NASA “Perseverance” rover will obtain 43 samples of Martian soil, rock, and air, then place them, in small metal tubes, on the Martian surface. The Mars Sample Fetch Rover is planned for launch in 2026, for a Mars landing in 2028. After landing, the robot will cross the Martian landscape for six months, at an average speed of 200 metres a day, pick up a maximum of 36 samples, then load them into a Mars Ascent Vehicle for lofting into orbit around Mars, where another ESA spacecraft, the Earth Return Orbiter, will collect the samples for the long journey back to Earth, arriving in 2031.

Sample Fetch Rover Size Comparison Fiat 500
Picture Credits- Airbus

The new rover is being designed with four wheels, instead of the six possessed by ‘Rosalind Franklin’, to save mass and simplify the design. These wheels will be larger than those on the earlier rover, and they have been designed to cope with the terrain of the landing site, and to enable the rover to cover the distance of over 15 km to the site where the samples will have been left. The Sample Fetch Rover will need to move faster than the “Rosalind Franklin”, without getting stuck in any difficult surface features.

Airbus UK has already completed two studies for software to enable the rover to locate the samples and for a robotic arm to retrieve them, the latter being in collaboration with a number of European countries.

The United Kingdom has committed £180 million to the exploration programme of the European Space Agency, in order to make sure that the UK space industry takes a major role in this mission.

Commenting on the project, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency Graham Turnock said: “This is an exciting opportunity for the UK space sector to play a leading role in humanity’s efforts to return the first samples from Mars. Airbus has a rich heritage of designing challenging space missions in the UK, from the Solar Orbiter probe to the ‘Rosalind Franklin’ Mars rover. The government has made clear its ambitions for space and we are working hard to develop a new National Space Strategy to bring long-term strategic and commercial benefits to the UK, while strengthening our international partnerships through ESA and beyond.”

By Griffith Ingram


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