The mission to return martian samples back to Earth will see a European 2.5 metre-long robotic arm pick up tubes filled with precious soil from Mars and transfer them to a rocket for an historic interplanetary delivery.
The sophisticated robot, known as the Sample Transfer Arm or STA, will play a crucial role in the success of the Mars Sample Return campaign.
The Sample Transfer Arm is conceived to be autonomous, highly reliable and robust. The robot can perform a large range of movements with seven degrees of freedom, assisted by two cameras and a myriad of sensors. It features a gripper – akin to a hand – that can capture and handle the sample tubes at different angles.
The robotic arm will land on Mars to retrieve the sample tubes NASA’s Perseverance rover is currently collecting from the surface. Able to “see”, “feel” and take autonomous decisions, its high level of dexterity allows the arm to extract the tubes from the rover, pick them up from the martian ground, insert them into a container and close the lid before lifting-off from Mars.
ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) will rendezvous with the container filled with martian samples and bring the material back to Earth.
The joint endeavour between NASA and ESA aims to bring back martian samples to the best labs in our planet by 2033.
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