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European Space Agency enlists Airbus to help it build a Mars rover to retrieve rock samples

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European Space Agency enlists Airbus to help it build a Mars rover called ‘Fetch’ that will find and retrieve rock samples on the Red Planet

The European Space Agency (ESA) has enlisted Airbus to help it build a Mars rover called ‘Fetch’ that will find and retrieve rock samples on the Red Planet. 

The defence and space arm of the aerospace corporation won the upcoming phase of the contract to develop the robot as part of the ‘Mars Sample Return’ mission. 

Fetch will travel across the surface of the Red Planet in 2028 collecting packaged rock samples left behind by the NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The four-wheeled ESA rover will ultimately transport these samples to a ‘Mars Ascent Vehicle’ which will carry them into orbit for collection by another ESA spacecraft.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has enlisted Airbus to help it build a Mars rover called'Fetch' that will find and retrieve rock samples on the Red Planet. Pictured, an artist's impression of the Fetch rover (left) and the lander vehicle (right)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has enlisted Airbus to help it build a Mars rover called ‘Fetch’ that will find and retrieve rock samples on the Red Planet. Pictured, an artist’s impression of the Fetch rover (left) and the lander vehicle (right)

Fetch will travel across the surface of the Red Planet in 2028 collecting packaged rock samples left behind by the NASA’s Perseverance rover. The four-wheeled ESA rover will ultimately transport these samples to a'Mars Ascent Vehicle' which will carry them into orbit for collection by another ESA spacecraft

Fetch will travel across the surface of the Red Planet in 2028 collecting packaged rock samples left behind by the NASA’s Perseverance rover. The four-wheeled ESA rover will ultimately transport these samples to a ‘Mars Ascent Vehicle’ which will carry them into orbit for collection by another ESA spacecraft

‘It’s exciting for our Airbus team to have such a key involvement in the Mars Sample Return programme which is a major international collaboration to achieve a real world first in space exploration,’ said Airbus project manager Ben Boyes.

‘The Sample Fetch Rover project is a great opportunity to make use of the technology developed in the UK for Rosalind Franklin,’ he added — referring to the ESA’s ExoMars mission rover that was also designed at Airbus. 

The Mars Sample Return rover will be launched from the Earth in 2026, arriving on the surface of the Red Planet in 2028.

Fetch will need to travel an average of 656 feet (200 metres) across the martian surface each day — covering more than 9 miles over six months — as it collects up to 36 of the metal sample containing tubes left behind by NASA’s 2020 Mars rover.

Once carried into orbit by the Mars Ascent Vehicle, the so-called ‘Earth Return Orbiter’ — an ESA vehicle with a NASA payload — will collect the samples and bring them back to earth for geologists to analyse, likely in the year 2031. 

Airbus have already developed the algorithms that will allow fetch to spot the sample tubes as it roams across the martian surface.

Meanwhile, a collective of European industries are working to design the robotic arm and grasping unit which will allow the rover to pick up the tubes and safely load them onboard in its front-mounted storage units.

The Fetch rover will be designed with four large wheels — two less than its Airbus predecessor, the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars Rover — with the aim of best equipping it to handle the landing site terrain and the speed to collect the samples in due time.

Fetch (depicted here with a car for scale) will need to travel an average of 656 feet (200 metres) across the martian surface each day — covering more than 9 miles over six months — as it collects up to 36 of the metal sample tubes left behind by NASA's 2020 Mars rover

Fetch (depicted here with a car for scale) will need to travel an average of 656 feet (200 metres) across the martian surface each day — covering more than 9 miles over six months — as it collects up to 36 of the metal sample tubes left behind by NASA’s 2020 Mars rover

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

Its rover is being developed at Airbus’ Stevenage facility, which recently completed the ESA Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover — which is now scheduled to be launched in the summer of 2022.

The initial phases of the Fetch rover, however, have been under development in Stevenage since the July of 2018.

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