Scientists get another bite at Mars, via Russia

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 March, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 March, 2004, 12:00am

Hong Kong scientists will have another shot at exploring Mars after the British-made Beagle 2 landing craft carrying their tools crashed on the planet and was probably destroyed last Christmas.

The Russian Space Agency plans to use the same or modified rock corer designed by Polytechnic University engineers on its scheduled 2009 mission to orbit Mars and to land on Phobos, one of its two moons.

'The Russian Space Agency has confirmation for the first time it is adopting the Hong Kong rock corer for its 2009 Phobos sampling Mars mission,' university team member Ng Tze-chuen said.

The Hong Kong-made equipment weighs less than 400 grams and is designed to grind rock surfaces and to drill and extract samples from rock cores.

Dr Ng said the Phobos spacecraft could carry up to four Beagle 3 landers, the expected next generation of the landing craft that was lost on the surface of Mars.

Just before Christmas, the Beagle 2 successfully separated from the orbiter Mars Express and was scheduled to land on Christmas Day. But it failed to send back radio signals and is now considered irretrievably lost.

The Mars Express has been sending back data about the Martian surface and atmospheric conditions since January.

The European Space Agency, which has close relations with its Russian counterpart, is now planning ExoMars, a 2009 mission to land a rover on the planet.

The Polytechnic University team also hopes to work on this mission.

The latest co-operation will not be the first with Russia. In late 1995, Russian cosmonauts aboard the now-destroyed space station Mir used forceps designed and produced by the Hong Kong team to carry out precision soldering work.