Samples collected by the Persevering Rover on Mars are expected to reach Earth in 2031.
PIAP Space – a company providing robotic solutions to the space sector – is working in an international consortium with Airbus (the project’s main contractor) and MDA. Together, they are developing a landing gear prototype for the Sample Fetch Rover (SFR), which will play a key role in the Mars sample return program.
Polish components already in the main integration
Work on the prototype continued in 2020-2021. PIAP Space was responsible for the detailed design, production, technological improvements and initial testing of the SFR chassis. Canadian company MDA created the software, 3D design and electrical diagrams for the chassis, while Swiss RUAG was responsible for systems engineering and supervision of device validation.
In November 2021, the prototype of the machine created by Poles was delivered to the headquarters of RUAG in Switzerland, where it is undergoing traction tests.
The delivery of the prototype for the Fetch Rover chassis is a milestone in the development of the PIAP space. We hope that the solutions implemented in this device will become the basis for the construction of the target Mars probe, which will be necessary to bring samples from Mars to Earth – confirms Mateusz Volsky, Chairman of the Board of Directors of PIAP Space.
As PIAP aerospace experts note, the company’s previous experience in designing and modeling robotic weapons (TITAN Project) and roving vehicles (VELES Project) was not without importance, which decided to include the Polish company in the framework of US-European cooperation.
What role will the Fetch Rover model play?
Due to weight and function limitations in space, landers and vehicles involved in Mars exploration missions are only equipped with the instruments that allow them to perform their primary missions. The autonomous vehicles that explore the surface of Mars today, such as the Perseverance, have tools for sample acquisition and basic analysis. Advanced research must be done on materials from the red planet on Earth.
Due to the limited possibilities of analysis by rovers, samples taken from the surface of Mars are stored inside the rovers themselves, to be left at specific points in the future. The Fetch Rover sample will be tasked with accessing these points and sampling on a spacecraft that will bring it back to Earth for detailed analysis.
Return of the Mars sample – about the program
The Mars Sample Return Program (2020-2030) is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the main objective of which is to transport Earth research materials collected during the last years of Mars exploration.
As part of the program, it was planned to launch three missiles.
The first stage is the NASA Mars 2020 mission. As part of it, the Perseverance rover, which landed in Martian Jezero crater in 2021, is obtaining samples from geologically interesting places. The collected material will be stored in 43 cylindrical tubes and left on the planet’s surface for later collection.
In the second phase of the program, which will begin in 2026, the rocket carrying the probe and the Fetch Rover sample on board will go to Mars to retrieve the prepared samples. The rover will do its work using a robotic arm and place the materials into the container of the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). The journey back to Earth will begin in 2029 with the launch of the MAV into low orbit around Mars.
In the final phase of the programme, the European Space Agency’s Earth Return Orbiter will intercept the Mars Ascent Rover and transport samples to the Earth’s surface. The European Space Agency’s orbital return vehicle will take off on an Ariane 6 rocket in October 2026. It will reach Mars in 2027 using an ion thruster plus a separate thruster to gradually lower its orbit to its low orbit suitable for Mars by July. 2028. The capsule will return to Mars in 2027. Earth in 2031 during the transition from Mars to Earth.
PIAP Space is a spin-off company founded in 2016 by the Łukasiewicz research network – Industrial Institute of Automation and Measurements, specialized in providing robotic solutions to the space sector. It develops technologies and products in the areas of satellite and test equipment integration (MSGE), active space debris removal, manipulators and grips, orbiting satellites, human-robot interaction, and vision systems and mechanisms. Since the beginning of its work, PIAP Space has implemented contracts for the European Space Agency related to the observation and exploration of space today and in the future, including the project of a robotic arm for the TITAN satellite service and the development of the autonomous robot VELES for the PRO-ACT project.
The mission is implemented and funded under the European Space Agency programme.