Airbus DS, France, has been selected to build the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), part of the, NASA/ESA, Mars Sample Return project. The ERO will transport recovered Martian rock samples – some of which will be prepared by the recently launched Perseverance rover – back from Mars to Earth. Once back in Earth orbit the samples will separate from the ERO and land in the desert of Utah, USA.
The ERO is expected to weigh around 6,500 kg, and is planned to launch in 2026. This will enable a return to Earth in 2031. The ERO is expected to utilise both chemical and electric propulsion on its interplanetary journey. In order to power its electric ion engines, it is to be designed with a very large solar array, with a wingspan of 39 metres.