NASA and ESA signed a letter of intent in April 2018 to pursue a Mars Sample Return mission.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has issued contracts for technology proposals to build a Mars rover to collect soil samples, and a return orbiter craft to bring them safely home. The deal is worth £3.9 million, which is over $5.1 million United States dollars, and follows on the heels of the Mars 2020 mission which will include another rover built by the same company.
The rover, designed by Airbus, will then head to Mars in 2026 and would have to find the tubes from a distance, autonomously drive to the location, collect them with the help of robotic arms, keep them inside in its storage space. The difference is that where Curiosity does all its analysis using its onboard laboratories, Mars 2020 will collect samples and drop them along the way inside of 36 pen-sized metal containers. The tubes will be handed off to the rocket which will then blast off and hopefully make its way back to Earth.
UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah praised "the remarkable new project, which will see samples brought back from Mars to Earth for the first time ever", and which "demonstrated Britain's world-leading scientific and engineering innovation".
Once in Earth orbit, the samples will be transferred into an Earth entry capsule. "Firstly to understand why Mars, although it is the planet that is most similar to Earth, took a very different evolutionary path than Earth and secondly to fully comprehend the Martian environment in order to allow humans to one day work and live on the Red Planet", he said.
Airbus is already in the process of building another rover bound for Mars (ESA'a ExoMars rover) at its Stevenage base and after securing a contract worth £3.9 million from ESA, the knowledge and expertise mastered in that project will now be applied to designing this new mission, which aims to deliver - for the first time - material to Earth from another planet.
The video below outlines the sample return missions.
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