ESA have collaborated previously with Airbus on a variety of satellite systems and cargo spacecraft, as well as exploration missions to both Mars and Venus.
The European Space Agency (ESA) have teamed up with Airbus to design a new rover that will head to Mars and retrieve the first ever martian soil samples from the planet to be later brought back safely to Earth for analysis.
According to ESA, the mission will require three launches. The fetch rover must be able to detect the sample tubes from a distance, drive to the sample location autonomously, pick them up using its robotic arm and then keep those samples in its storage unit. Presently, NASA operates two rovers on Mars called Opportunity and Curiosity. Fetch will then return to its lander, which has a cylinder attached to it that contains a Mars Ascent Vehicle.
Landing a rover on Mars is a hard task, but it pales in comparison to the incredible challenge of sending material from the planet back to Earth. After the box is installed in the rocket, the latter will blast off into orbit around Mars. That is, however, only half the job, because those samples will have to be brought back to Earth for study. The samples will re-enter Earth's atmosphere and land in the U.S. before the end of the next decade. Winning this contract builds on the UK's world-renowned expertise in space and robotics which the government is supporting through the UK Space Agency and the major investments in our modern Industrial Strategy.
Ben Boyes, the Sample Fetch Rover project manager at Airbus described the Martian mission as "ambitious and technologically very advanced", adding that "a$3 double first of launching from the planet's surface and the in-orbit transfer of the samples means it will be possible for the first time to directly study Mars soil in laboratories on Earth".
The video below outlines the sample return missions.