Airbus has been selected by the European Space Agency to bring back samples from Mars in a mission to the Red Planet.
Airbus will continue the Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign, which has been contracted to design and build the Earth Return Bit Rebar (ERO).
The Mars Sample Return mission is a joint campaign from ESA and NASA and the next step in the exploration of Mars, Airbus said.
Sample returns are expected to begin by the end of the decade and end of the five-year period.
Airbus' contract is worth $ 577.1 million. The orbiter, which will launch in 2026, will go into orbit around Mars and collect a sample canister launched from a NASA-developed lander, also launching in 2026.
Airbus Defense and Space will be the prime contractor for the Earth Return Orbiter.
Airbus acts as ESA's prime contractor for the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), the first ever spacecraft to bring Martian samples back to Earth, the company said.
The order for the Orbiter has a volume of 491 million euros.
"It's a great day for Airbus".
They have also been selected by the ESA for the study phase of a landing gear module module, or European Large Logistics Lander, or EL3, which will have the capacity to carry 1.7 tons of cargo to the moon.
"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 new challenge as part of this joint worldwide mission", said Jean-Marc Nasr, the head of Airbus Space Systems.
David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA, said in an interview that the study contracts will lead to the selection of one of the companies to proceed with development of EL3, assuming funding for the program is allocated by ESA's member states at the next ministerial meeting in 2022. A call for ideas for possible uses of EL3 this summer resulted in 300 proposals to be used to develop "model missions" to support these studies. Part of the contract process is to match the funds provided by Member States to the exploration program with specific areas of interest.
In addition to building various spaceships, ESA member states expect their investment to provide the opportunity to fly ESA astronauts to the moon on Artemis missions. "That mission, on day one, is going to be global and it will include the European Space Agency as not just a critical partner but a critical enabler", he said.