Airbus have won a €491million contract from the European Space Agency and Nasa to build and launch a gigantic probe aboard Ariane 6, with a five-year mission to collect samples and - maybe - any information of potential for life sourced from the Red planet.
With a wingspan of more than 40 metres, a height of six metres, weighing six tonnes and covered with 144m² of solar panels, the probe is expected to take a year to reach Mars.
A parallel Nasa Perseverance mission operating on the surface of Mars will gather rock samples in basketball-sized boxes and put these into orbit. Once within range the Toulouse probe will collect the samples for delivery back to Earth.
“We’re bringing the full force of our experience gained on Rosetta, Mars Express, Venus Express, Gaia, ATV, BepiColombo, and JUICE to ensure this mission succeeds. Bringing samples back to Earth from Mars will be an extraordinary feat, taking interplanetary science to a new level and Airbus is excited to take on this challenge as part of this joint international mission,” said Jean-Marc Nasr, head of Airbus Space Systems.