The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a contract with Airbus Aerospace Defense to continue developing the advanced Sample Fetch Rover which will be used to collect samples from the surface of Mars. The campaign to return samples from the surface of the Red Planet is carried out jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
NASA’s Perseverance rover will take samples of soil and Martian rocks during the Mars 2020 mission and deposit them on the surface of Mars in small metal tubes. Then in 2026, NASA will launch an ESA-made rover that will collect these tubes. This Rover will land on Mars in 2028 and travel an average of 200 meters per day for six months to find and collect samples.
It will collect up to 36 tubes, carry them back to the lander and place them in a Mars Ascent Vehicle, which will launch them into orbit around Mars. Another ESA-developed spacecraft (with a NASA payload), the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), will collect samples from the Martian orbit and bring them back to Earth.
Unlike the six-wheeled ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover, the Sample Fetch Rover will only have four to save mass and complexity. The Rover will have to travel more than 15 km across the Red Planet for six months to research and collect up to 36 of the 43 sample tubes left by the Perseverance rover.
The industrial team led by Airbus has already developed the sophisticated algorithms necessary to locate the sample tubes on the surface of Mars. Also, a group of European companies is designing a new robotic arm with a gripping unit that will be in charge of collecting the tubes.
It all goes well; the samples are expected to reach Earth in 2031.