AGH UST scientists to explore Mars with low-weight satellites

AGH UST Space Systems with their rover Kalman

The AGH University of Science and Technology, together with universities from all over Poland and the company SatRevolution, has established a consortium with a leading global company operating in the space sector – Virgin Orbit. The aim of the signed agreement is to build low-weight scientific research satellites and to send them into the orbit of Mars. The launch of the first space probe is planned for the year 2022. 

According to the objectives of the project, the constructed satellite will weigh less than 50 kg and belong to the category of “CubeSat”. Its task will be taking photos of the surface of Mars and its moon – Phobos, the analysis of the contents of the Martian atmosphere, and even looking for water deposits under the surface of the planet.  

Within the framework of the project, AGH UST scientists will be responsible for developing the system of attitude control (spacecraft orientation), which will enable the navigation of the satellite. They will also design and build equipment that will process the images of the surface of the planet, which will help in choosing a landing spot for an American space probe. 

The satellite of Mars will be taken into space by the LauncherOne rocket that will take off from a flying launch pad located on board of Boeing 747. Small dimensions and weight of the probe will make it possible not only to lower the cost of reaching the Red Planet, but they will also make it possible to examine its moon. Due to a small size of the natural satellite and the resulting weak gravitational attraction, only small objects can approach it safely without a risk of collision. 

– We are very pleased that the AGH University of Science and Technology is taking part in such an ambitious project together with other Polish universities, as well as other leading companies from the space sector all over the world. We are convinced that the knowledge and experience of AGH UST scientists will in a short time lead to achieving the objectives of the project, and that Mars will soon be explored by technologically advanced satellites – said professor Jerzy Lis, AGH UST Vice-Rector for Cooperation. 

The scheduled mission is not the first Martian project of AGH UST. Last year, scientists of the Faculty of Mining and Geoengineering together with the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences started the project “LOOP – Landing Once on Phobos”, whose aim is the first landing on the surface of one of the two moons of Mars. Due to very small gravitational acceleration, it is important for the landing module to touch the planet at a suitable angle, and that is why the team are developing a mathematical model of contact between the lander footpad and the surface of Phobos. 

In addition to the above, in September 2019, students of the AGH UST Space Systems with their rover Kalman took second place in the international space and robotics competition European Rover Challenge (ERC). 40 teams from all over the world entered the event, in which autonomous planetary vehicles were challenged in off-road competitions similar to the tasks performed by real robots on the Moon or Mars.