Following the signing of space collaboration agreement between China and Russia last week, scientists at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) will get a new chance to design their state-of-the-art space tools for a mission to Mars onboard a Russian spacecraft.
The aerospace authorities of the two nations have agreed to jointly probe Mars and its innermost moon Phobos. The signing of this agreement in Moscow on 26 March was witnessed by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin during Mr Hu’s recent official visit to Russia.
PolyU President Prof. Poon Chung-kwong said the University was proud to take part in the Phobos-Grunt project. He said PolyU would render full support to this historic initiative, and he also thanked the project researchers for their unremitting efforts in developing innovative space tools over the years.
It is planned that Russia will launch an explorer carrying a lander with Chinese-made device to collect samples of Phobos soil. This sophisticated device, known as the “Soil Preparation System”, is being developed by a research team led by PolyU Fellow Dr Ng Tze-chuen, who is a dentist by profession; and Prof. Yung Kai-leung, Associate Head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. This project is supported by engineers at PolyU’s Industrial Centre under the directorship of Dr Chris Wong Ho-ching.
The system, which weighs merely 230 grams and measures slightly larger than a cigarette pack, will be capable of grinding and sifting Phobos rock to the size of less than 1mm in diameter for in situ analysis by the Lander. This procedure is considered a crucial step in understanding the evolution of the universe and in searching for possible signs of life on the extraterrestrial planet.
The University has previously developed space tools for different space agencies over the years. In 2003, PolyU scientists developed the Mars Rock Corer which was carried onboard the Beagle 2 Lander in a spacecraft of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Mission. Although the Beagle 2 Lander reportedly crashed on the surface of Mars, but Dr Ng and PolyU researchers never give up their dream for space exploration.
The Mars Rock Corer was in fact developed from another space tool, the Space Holinser Forceps. The Holinser Forceps, which function like a pair of dental forceps, were developed by PolyU engineers from a concept initiated by Dr Ng.
The idea was further developed into the Space Forceps System which consists of 70 inter-connectable components for used by astronauts in space. In 1995, four sets of Holinser Forceps were ordered by the Russian Space Agency for use by astronauts in precision soldering at the MIR Space Station.
The Mars Rock Corer and Space Holinser Forceps were produced at the University’s Industrial Centre.
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
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