Airbus wins contract to build ship to return samples from Mars to Earth

One of these days all formalities the road to designing and building a spacecraft to return samples from Mars to Earth has been sorted out. Airbus concluded a € 491 million contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the construction of the Earth Return Orbiter. ERO’s task: to fly to Mars, drop a platform on it to collect and send soil samples into orbit, catch samples in orbit and return them to Earth. Just.

Earth Return Orbiter spacecraft project. Image source: Airbus

In the mission developed by ESA and NASA to return samples of Martian soil to Earth, so much can go wrong that the mission can certainly be called one famous movie with Tom Cruise. To begin with, the Perseverance rover, which will collect samples on Mars in places with potentially possible local life, has not yet landed on the Red Planet and has not even reached it.

“Perseverance” will reach Mars in February 2021, descend to its surface and begin collecting samples in container test tubes. Samples will be left on the ground. The rover will not carry them with it. Samples will be collected by another rover, which will deliver the Earth Return Orbiter to Mars in 2026 on a landing platform, for the design of which Airbus received a contract.

After the rover with the samples returns to the landing platform, the robotic arm of the platform will transfer the samples into a special container, shaped and sized like a basketball. This container will be placed inside the reentry vehicle – actually a rocket to launch the container into orbit. The Earth Return Orbiter will have to catch the container shot off in orbit, pack it in a bioprotective shell (you never know what lives there on Mars!) And return it to Earth. In Earth orbit, the container will be dropped into the American desert and will be quarantined until samples are analyzed.

In this entire mission, the Airbus Earth Return Orbiter will have a lot of maneuvers in the orbits of the Earth, Mars and in deep space. Therefore, the ERO propulsion system will be a combination of electrical and chemical propulsion systems. In particular, the use of ion engines will require a large amount of energy, for which the device will be equipped with solar panels with a span of up to 40 meters.

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