This little spherical container may look more like a rejected R2-D2 prototype than a piece of cutting-edge technology, but is in fact the vessel in which the European Space Agency hopes to ship Martian samples back to Earth in.

The little ball weighs almost 5 kilos, measures 23 cm in diameter, and is designed to keep samples in pristine condition during their their long journey back. The thing has undergone some thorough testing, too, including a 400 g shock test. The pictured container has 11 sealable receptacles, one of which would be set aside for Martian air.

Once filled, the container would be launched into orbit around Mars, before it makes a rendezvous with another spacecraft to carry it home. To smooth that process, the sphere contains a radio emitter and retroreflectors for close-up laser ranging, so the spacecraft knows exactly where it is. Of course, it'll be a while before it's ever put to use, but it's nice to know that the ESA is thinking ahead. [ESA]