Canadian-based Company Selected to Design Next-Generation Mars Rover


December 4, 2018

MDA, a Maxar Technologies company based in Canada, was selected by Airbus to provide a conceptual design of a rover mobility system and sample acquisition system planned to explore Mars and acquire samples that will be returned to Earth. The rover, a small vehicle approximately 1 metre wide by 1.5 metres long, will be capable of withstanding the harsh atmosphere of Mars and its challenging terrain. The ‘Sample Fetch Rover’ is planned to be part of the mission concepts the European Space Agency (ESA) is exploring with NASA for an international Mars Sample Return campaign between 2020 and 2030. The new contract is one of a number of innovative programs MDA’s space systems is supporting.

“MDA’s unparalleled flight heritage and end-to-end system capabilities in robotic systems provides a solid foundation for new missions to explore planets, asteroids and other bodies in the solar system,” said Mike Greenley, group president of MDA. “As a global leader in technology and products for space, MDA pushes the boundaries in advancing spaceflight and exploration: from sensors and vision systems, to robotic arms and autonomous robotics to planetary science instruments.”

Under the Mars Sample Return campaign, three launches are planned to accomplish the tasks of landing on the red planet and finding, collecting, storing samples, and returning them to Earth. The first of the launches under the NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will explore the surface and rigorously document and store a set of samples in canisters to be retrieved later for flight to Earth. The second launch will send the Sample Return Lander mission to land a platform near the Mars 2020 site. From here, the rover will retrieve the stored samples.

Once the Sample Fetch Rover has collected the samples, it will return to the lander platform so they can be loaded into the Mars Ascent Vehicle. This vehicle will perform the first liftoff from Mars and carry the container into Mars orbit.

ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter will be the third launch in this campaign to Mars and it is timed to capture the basketball-size sample container orbiting Mars. The spacecraft will then return to Earth, where it will release the entry capsule, allowing extensive analyses of the samples in laboratories with varied scientific equipment too large to take to Mars.

The Mars 2020-2030 mission addresses high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars. The mission also provides opportunities to gather knowledge and demonstrate technologies that address the challenges of future human expeditions to Mars.

The Mars Sample Fetch Rover would be an extension of MDA’s contributions to Mars exploration:

  • ESA ExoMars Program, a two part astrobiology mission searching for evidence of life on Mars: The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, launched in March 2016, includes an MDA-built communication antenna subsystem; and the ExoMars rover, which is planned for launch in 2020 — MDA is nearing completion of the rover’s critical locomotion system elements.
  • NASA Mars Phoenix Mission, landed in 2008, included a LiDAR instrument built by MDA and Optech Inc.
  • NASA Mars Science Laboratory Mission’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars’ surface since 2012 includes an MDA-developed scientific instrument called the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer.

MDA’s new contract with Airbus is one of the many successes MDA has achieved over the last year in the robotics business. MDA continues to apply its extensive heritage in space systems and robotics developed through over four decades of work on the ISS to endeavors on other recent programs and achievements in international space exploration:

  • Delivered refurbished Latching End Effector for use on the International Space Station
  • Selected to provide a conceptual design of a lunar rover by the Canadian Space Agency;
  • Developed Laser Altimeter for the Canadian Space Agency’s contribution to NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) mission to Bennu, an asteroid in our solar system;
  • Developing locomotion and localization and navigation camera elements for the ESA ExoMars Science Rover whose mission is to collect samples and analyse them in an onboard laboratory;
  • Developing high Earth orbit qualified LiDAR sensors for the Luna Resource-1 Lander.

MDA’s commercial space mindset is enabling deployment of new technologies and tools for the development of innovative solutions that build a better world.

The view expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency.

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