HK scientists aid Russian mission to Martian moon

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 May, 2006, 12:00am

A Hong Kong-Russian scientific partnership that ended with the destruction of the Mir space station has been re-established for a mission to a Martian moon.

The Polytechnic University team that designed sampling tools used aboard the ill-fated British-built space probe Beagle 2 has secured an agreement with the Russian space agency working on a mission to Phobos, one of Mars' two moons, in October 2009.

Beagle 2 crashed and was presumed destroyed on the surface of Mars on Christmas Day in 2003.

The team first designed forceps for Russian cosmonauts to conduct experiments aboard Mir more than a decade ago. The space station was decommissioned and disintegrated when it re-entered Earth's atmosphere in March 2001.

Last month, Ng Tze-chuen, a private dentist and team spokesman, flew to Moscow and signed an agreement with Alexander Zakharov, the Russian Academy of Science scientist in charge of the mission to collect samples on Phobos.

'We have secured a seat with the Russians, and have been asked to design mission-specific sampling tools to collect surface samples,' Dr Ng said.

The new project would be even more challenging than the one for Beagle 2, according to team member Yung Kai-leung, a Polytechnic University engineering professor.

'Mars has one-sixth of the Earth's gravity and Phobos one-2000th. With so little gravity, a small push could send a sample far into the distance, so we need to design even more sensitive equipment to grab and drill in territorial sampling,' he said.

The locally made tools will be carried aboard a Russian-made lander, to be ejected onto the surface of Phobos when its mothership flies past the moon. The mission aims to sort samples on-site and return some to Earth. Phobos is the larger and innermost of Mars' moons, less than 6,000km above the surface of the planet.