Plans to use a Mars rover - developed over four years by Stevenage engineers to help bring soil samples from the Red Planet back to Earth for the first time ever - have been scrapped.

Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage won the contract to design a Sample Fetch Rover in 2018, and it was due to launch in 2026.

The plan had been for the rover to retrieve 36 pen-sized sample tubes left on Mars' surface by NASA's Perseverance rover and load them into a vehicle that would launch into orbit around Mars, to be captured by an orbiter and brought back to Earth.

However, NASA has now announced that Perseverance, already collecting samples on Mars, will take the samples to the vehicle itself and "the campaign will no longer include the Sample Fetch Rover".

NASA said the decision "takes into consideration a recently updated analysis of Perseverance's expected longevity".

An Airbus spokesperson said: "We are very disappointed that after all the hard work on developing the Mars Sample Fetch Rover that the programme has been cancelled. With the skills and expertise built up on interplanetary rovers over the last 20 years, Airbus is determined to ensure this surface mobility capability, that could also be used on the Moon, is maintained for the UK space sector.”