HK research team takes role in Russian mission to Venus

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2007, 12:00am

A Polytechnic University-based team of space researchers has taken on projects involving missions to three planetary bodies by Russia and the mainland.

The latest project involves an ambitious Russian mission to Venus scheduled for 2017. The team's role involves modifying tools that will take soil samples.

The tools are being built by team members who are university engineers. They were designed for the mainland's Chang'e mission to the moon and Russia's flight to the Martian moon Phobos in 2009. There is no definite date for the Chang'e landing, but a mainland orbiter is expected to be launched later this year.

Team member Ng Tze-chuen said mainland space authorities would announce in November whether the team would be selected for the Chang'e landing mission. In the meantime, they are working with the Russians.

The team also includes Yung Kai-leung, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at the university, and his doctoral student, robotics specialist Peter Weiss. They will develop a system to grind and filter soil on the surface of Phobos.

The system would be modified for the Venus mission, which Dr Ng, a dentist, said was even more challenging.

'Venus is a gigantic, runaway greenhouse effect, heating up to 450 degrees Celsius on the surface, and has tremendous atmospheric pressure,' he said. 'Maybe we could use Venus to scare people into doing something about the greenhouse effect on Earth.'

Referring to the Venus mission, he said the lander and its equipment had less than 30 minutes to do their jobs before being damaged or destroyed by the intense heat and pressure. 'Talk about working under pressure!' Dr Ng said.

Mikhail Gerasimov, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Science and head of contact instrumentation on both the Phobos and Venus missions, said the Hong Kong team was invited because of its track record, particularly its work on the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission to Mars.

'Our Chinese partners from the Polytechnic University are involved in a very important task - preparation of the soil for analysis,' he said.

'The device which they are building has a soil-preparation system. It is important to have the soil in the oven which is milled to sub-millimetre dimensions of grains. Since the soil from the surface of Phobos, which is delivered by the manipulator, has various grain sizes it is necessary to mill them to smaller dimensions.

'We know about the experience of this Chinese team in building mechanical devices for soil processing in space research and we invited them to design the system.'