NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) expect the total cost of bringing back samples from Mars to Earth to reach at least $7 billion, SpaceNews reported Thursday. Those include three missions with Mars 2020 as the first.
A United Launch Alliance-built Atlas 5 rocket took off July 30th from Cape Canaveral, Florida as part of the Mars 2020 mission to bring a rover dubbed Perseverance to the surface of Mars to collect up to three dozen samples of rock.
The two other missions will return those collected samples to Earth. One of these two missions is expected to launch in 2026 and will use a NASA-built lander carrying a European “fetch rover” that will collect and load the sample tubes into a container, which will use a rocket called Mars Ascent Vehicle in order for it to launch into Mars orbit.
The Earth Return Orbit mission led by ESA will then pick up the container in Mars orbit using a NASA-provided containment system. A capsule with the sample container is expected to reach the Utah desert by 2031.
David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA, announced Tuesday at a NASA press conference that ESA intends to award Airbus’ defense and space business a contract to develop the Earth Return Orbiter. Airbus will work with Thales Alenia Space to build the spacecraft.