Leonardo is to design, manufacture, integrate and test the Sample Transfer Arm for NASA and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Sample Return mission.

Sophisticated robotics and mechatronics algorithms will underpin the new technology, which is able to “see” and make decisions autonomously. The robotic arm will retrieve sample tubes filled with Martian soil, supporting their journey back to Earth.

The mission to return samples of the Martian surface back to Earth for the first time will see a 2.5-metre-long robotic arm land on the red planet by the end of the decade.

First operations on Mars

Following a successful study and prototyping phase, Leonardo, at the head of a European consortium, will now take responsibility for the development of the system through to its first operations on Mars.

Scheduled for delivery in 2025, Leonardo’s robotic arm will be installed on the NASA Sample Retrieval Lander and will recover the tubes full of Martian soil that were previously collected by the Mars 2020 rover.

This will allow scientists back on Earth to analyse the samples in state-of-the-art laboratories and conduct brand new research aimed at bettering humanity’s understanding of the red planet.

Leadership in space robotics

“We are very proud to contribute to the success of the Mars Sample Return mission, an ambitious programme and a major international collaboration. This contract reinforces our leadership in space robotics, an important underpinning technology for planetary exploration and in in-orbit-servicing operations” said Gabriele Pieralli, Managing Director of Leonardo’s Electronics Division.

“This cutting-edge instrument is just one example of Leonardo’s technological excellence in the space domain, which is the reason we are chosen to be on board the major missions to explore the universe, to monitor the health of our planet and to provide critical navigation and telecommunications services.”

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