A Small Piece of Mars is Coming Home, Via Stevenage

By Gary Cutlack on at

We're about to do something first in space that'll get on the news and have lots of funny memes attached to it, thanks to the European Space Agency asking a British team to develop a Mars rover with the additional superpower of being able to get a sample of Mars rocks back to earth.

The ESA has given Airbus a £3.9 million contract to design the Sample Fetch Rover -- a helper to get samples taken by NASA'a Mars 2020 rover back here for analysis -- along with the associated Earth Return Orbiter that'll blast the red dust back here. The separate Mars 2020 project is launching in 2020, but the actual sample return business won't get under way until 2026, when this UK-designed little vehicle will head off to pick up the samples taken by the NASA bot, get them into a launcher, pack them into a biocontainment system within an orbiter and fire them in our direction.

That's an awful lot of transportation projects that need to be got right a very long way away from anywhere, so it's no wonder they chose the UK to design it; a country where after 150 years of trying we've nearly worked out how train timetables work. Nearly.

Airbus space manager Patrick Lelong said: "Our long experience in complex scientific exploration missions such as Rosetta, BepiColombo and Mars Express will be a great asset for this study. The mission is technologically very challenging, but the prospect of seeing a sample of Mars returning to Earth is very exciting." [Airbus via GOV]