Life on Mars: UK to join ESA to build new instrument in search of extraterrestrial life

The device will replace the Russian made instrument
A photograph of Mars taken by Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope (Picture: Nasa/Getty Images)A photograph of Mars taken by Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope (Picture: Nasa/Getty Images)
A photograph of Mars taken by Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope (Picture: Nasa/Getty Images)

UK researchers are joining in the search for life on Mars by creating a new instrument as part of the European mission - which was due to launch last year. The £10m rover, which was built by Airbus in Stevenage, is now due to launch in 2028.

The device, named Enfys, meaning “rainbow” in Welsh, will replace a Russian-made instrument on the Rosalind Franklin rover after the collaboration with Russia’s space agency stopped following the Ukraine invasion.

With £10.7 million additional funding from the UK Space Agency, a team led by the University of Aberystwyth in Wales will build the instrument that will identify areas on Mars with “high potential of evidence of life”, where the rover will collect samples by drilling around two metres below surface and analyse them in an onboard laboratory.

Science, research and innovation minister Andrew Griffith said: “'Is there life on Mars?’ That has been asked by mankind for generations and this UK investment is an exciting opportunity to enhance our understanding of the red planet and perhaps finally answer that very question.”

Other UK institutions involved in the project include the University of Leicester, Bradford University, University College London’s (UCL) Mullard Space Science Laboratory and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “The UK-built Rosalind Franklin rover is a truly world-leading piece of technology at the frontier of space exploration. It is fantastic that experts from the UK can also provide a key instrument for this mission, using UK Space Agency funding.

“As well as boosting world-class UK space technology to further our understanding of Mars and its potential to host life, this extra funding will strengthen collaboration across the fast-growing UK space sector and economy.”

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