Airbus Fetch Rover could return Mars rocks to Earth

The European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA are working together to get specs for a rover that could one day cruise the surface of Mars. Aircraft maker Airbus is conducting feasibility studies on a rover called the "fetch rover." This concept rover is meant o be able to mine Martian rocks and send it back to Earth for hands-on study.

The ultimate goal is to send a small rover such as the fetch rover to Mars by 2020 and return it around 2026. Airbus feasibility team lead Ben Boyes says that the rover would be "relatively small" at about 130kg, but that the requirements are very demanding. This rover would need to cover large distances with a high degree of autonomy and plan its own path every day.

NASA and the ESA signed a joint letter of intent agreeing to bring back rocks from Mars before the end of the next decade. The joint venture is being completed in stages and will require several years to complete. Fetch Rover would be able to drill and scoop materials into small pen-sized tubes that would be dropped at a depo point for retrieval. There could be as many as 30 of those tubes collected.

The rover itself would be sent to Mars in 2020 with the recovery mission launching in 2026 to pick up the tubes. Within 150 days those canisters would be shot back into space to come back to Earth. Right now, the architecture is being worked out and the tech needed must be shown to be achievable.

That means the design, timing of stages, and the concept will evolve over time. The schedule could be stretched out to meet budgetary requirements. Airbus was selected for the feasibility work expected to cost €4.45m. As the ESA is getting ready NASA is working with its own industry partners for its hardware.