Airbus to build first space cargo ship to carry Martian rocks back to Earth

A GROUNDBREAKING spacecraft that will carry rocks from Mars to Earth is to be built by Airbus-France.

The Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) is a giant satellite that will collect samples drilled on the Red Planet by Nasa's next rover, Perseverance, which is due to liftoff from Florida tomorrow.

Perseverance will leave samples of Martian soil and rocks taken from Mars's Jezero crater in metal tubes on the planet's surface.

A separate rover built by the European Space Agency (Esa) and launched in 2026 will then gather up to 36 of these tubes and launch them into space.

They will be intercepted by the enormous ERO satellite – another Esa craft – and carried back to Earth for analysis by scientists.

The joint European-American project is expected to take just over a decade to complete.

The ultimate aim is to prove that ancient microbial life existed on the Red Planet billions of years ago.

While rovers are capable of confirming signs of life in samples, experts will need the accuracy of powerful instruments on Earth for definitive proof.

Airbus' role in the project was revealed by Dr David Parker, who heads up Esa's human and robotic exploration division, at a joint Nasa-Esa briefing ahead of Thursday's launch of Perseverance.

"This is not just twice as difficult as any typical Mars mission; it's twice squared – when you think about the complexity involved," Dr Parker said.

"And this satellite that Airbus will build – I like to call it 'the first interplanetary cargo ship', because that's what it will be doing. It's designed to carry cargo between Mars and Earth," he told BBC News.

Described as a "take-away" service by Esa, the ERO is planned for launch in 2026.

It will be a monster of a satellite, measuring more than 120ft (39 metres) across thanks to the huge solar panels that power its ion engine.

At 6.5 tonnes, the spacecraft will weigh the same as a large elephant.

If all goes to plan, the project begins with Perseverance, which is expected to touch down on the red planet in February 2021.

The Nasa rover will scientifically select the best samples to store in tubes and deposit them onto the martian surface.

Esa's Sample Fetch Rover will land on Mars in 2028 and will find and collect tubes left by Perseverance.

It will then carry them to back to its lander and place them in a Mars Ascent Vehicle which will launch them into orbit around Mars.

Mars facts

Here's what you need to know about the Red Planet…

  • Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun
  • It is named after the Roman god of war
  • The landmass of Mars is very similar to Earth but due to the difference in gravity you could jump three times higher there than you can here
  • Mars is mountainous and hosts the tallest mountain known in the Solar System called Olympus Mons, which is three times higher than Everest
  • Mars is considered to be the second most habitable planet after Earth
  • It takes the planet 687 Earth days to orbit the Sun
  • So far, there has been 39 missions to Mars but only 16 of these have been successful

The Earth Return Orbiter will capture a canister in orbit and transfer it safely to Earth, a return trip that will take about 13 months.

Nasa has cleared its alien-hunting Mars rover Perseverance for liftoff on July 30 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The $2.1billion (£1.6billion) machine is the size of a small car and will touch down on the Red Planet in seven months' time.

Perseverance, which will fire into space strapped to an Atlas V rocket, is loaded with a new drill that it will use to dig up samples of Martian soil.

It will search for signs of alien life and houses a separate, small helicopter-like craft that Nasa hopes will perform the first powered flight on Mars.

In other news, billionaire Elon Musk’s Crew Dragon spaceship will bring Nasa astronauts home from the ISS next week.

Musk announced last month that SpaceX's mission to get man on Mars is now the company's "top priority".

And, Nasa has revealed the design of a moon lander that could be taking astronauts back to the lunar surface by 2024.

What are your hopes for the Mars missions? Let us know in the comments!

Source: Read Full Article