The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, or PolyU, is reported to be working with the Russian Federal Space Agency on the design of a state-of-the-art space tool that would be part of the payload of a Russian spacecraft bound for the Red Planet, Mars, in the 2009 Sino-Russian Space Mission.
This mission is the pioneering strategic interplanetary collaboration between China and Russia, and will mark the first interplanetary space mission by Russia since the break up for the Soviet Union, or USSR. Continuing the string of firsts, the mission would be that it will be mankind's first attempt at landing on the moon of a planet other than the Earth, and will be the first ever interplanetary sample return mission.
PolyU has the responsibility of designing a mission-critical space tool called the "Soil Preparation System" (SOPSYS).
Dr Alexander V Zakharov, chief scientist of the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Science and Project Scientist of the Phobos-Soil project, was reported to have made a special visit to PolyU this week to discuss with PolyU engineering scientists testing requirements that would qualify a model of the tool.
The PolyU-developed device weighs a light 400 grams, measuring a little more than a cigarette pack. The device will be capable of grinding and sifting Phobos rock to a size of less than one millimetre in diameter, for in situ analysis by the Lander.
The process is said to be a crucial part of the mission to understand the evolution of the universe, and in the search of signs of extraterrestrial life.
Russian and Chinese aerospace authorities have agreed to a joint probe for Mars, and that of the planet's innermost moon Phobos, having signed a space collaboration agreement under the aegis of Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 26 March 2007.
The mission schedule says that Russia would launch an explorer that would carry a Chinese satellite and lander, which would have the PolyU-made device installed to collect samples of Phobos soil, which would then be retrieved back to Earth for a more comprehensive scientific research into Phobos, Mars and Martian space.
SOPSYS has been designed and manufactured by Professor Yung and engineers of PolyU's Industrial Centre, with the support of the Centre's Director Dr Chris Wong Ho-ching. The system is presently in the final stages of development, and would be ready for the interplanetary mission by the end of the year.
PolyU has much experience in the development of space tools for various space agencies, dating back from 1995 with the launch of the Space Holiner Forceps for Russian astronauts working on the MIR Space Station. In 2003, PolyU scientists also developed the Mars Rock Corer, carried into space by the Beagle 2 Lander in a spacecraft of the European Space Agency's Mars Express Mission, which crashed on the Martian surface.