UK space sector to benefit from new ESA contract

UK space sector to benefit from new ESA contract
©ESA/ATG medialab

The UK space sector will design a future Mars rover, Science Minister Sam Gyimah announced today after a visit to the Harwell space cluster.

A new Mars rover set to collect the first ever samples from the planet to be brought back safely to Earth will be designed by the UK space sector. Stevenage by Airbus will be designing the rover following the award of a £3.9m (~€4.4m) contract by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The sample fetch rover will collect samples left by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and transfer them to an ascent vehicle. This will put them into orbit about the planet, where they will be brought back to Earth by a separate spacecraft.

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake said: “This is an exciting new era where businesses and space agencies are working closer than ever before on ambitious missions to expand our knowledge of the Solar System and deliver benefits to people’s lives. The close collaboration between the UK and ESA will place Britain at the forefront of innovative missions to explore the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

The benefits to the UK space sector

The UK space sector is growing, worth £13.7bn to the economy and employing more than 38,000 people across the country.

Gyimah said: “This remarkable new project, which will see samples brought back from Mars to Earth for the first time ever, demonstrates Britain’s world-leading scientific and engineering innovation.

“Winning this contract builds on the UK’s world-renowned expertise in space and robotics, which the government is supporting through the UK Space Agency and the major investments in our modern Industrial Strategy.”

The UK is a founding member of ESA and is world-leader in small satellite technology, telecommunications, robotics and Earth observation, while British universities are some of the best in the world for space science. As technology evolves and reduces the cost of access to space, there is an exciting opportunity for the UK to thrive in the commercial space age.

As ESA is a separate entity to the European Union (EU), the UK’s membership will continue after they leave the EU, delivering economic benefits and ensuring British companies, universities and other organisations continue to be at the forefront of space exploration, satellite manufacture and technology applications.

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