AGH UST Scientists will contribute to landing on Mars' moon

Researchers from AGH UST and the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences who are involved in the project.

Phobos – photo uploaded by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe in 2008.

A team of scientists from the Faculty of Mining and Geoengineering, in cooperation with the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences have undertaken a project called ‘LOOP – Landing Once on Phobos’. The research findings will be used for the purposes of planned lander mission on one of Martian moons. The research conducted at AGH UST is part of ESA (European Space Agency) project.

‘LOOP – Landing once on Phobos’ is aimed at first-ever landing on the Mars’ satellite. Phobos, with the  surface area of  over 6000 m2, is one of the planet’s two moons. The task will be made harder by the conditions prevalent on the Martian satellite, which so far have not been thoroughly investigated. Scientists assume that the gravitational acceleration there is over a thousand times weaker than that on Earth, while the temperatures range from -4 to -112° Celsius. An additional challenge to be faced is the limited knowledge of the ground on Phobos (called regolith). Thus the moment of the lander’s foot touching the Moon’s surface will be key to the success of the entire landing. Determination of possible variants of the Phobos’s surface structure is one of the tasks to be addressed by the research team of the Faculty of Mining and Geoengineering.

In addition to the identification of the material whose composition would be similar to that of the moon’s ground, the AGH UST team of scientists will develop a mathematical model of contact of the lander’s foot with Phobos’s surface. Owing to the very weak gravitational acceleration it is essential that the lander comes into contact with the ground already at the first attempt, without bouncing. Hence the name of the project – ‘Landing once on Phobos’. 

As Professor Marek Cała, Dean of the Faculty of Mining and Geoengineering, stressed: Execution of the project is just one of many building blocks which are supposed to result in the development of a set of principles for safe and multiple asteroid landings. Apart from the exploration and research conducted by scientists, they will soon be used as a source of precious raw materials. The overpopulation of our planet together with the ongoing depletion of its resources will spur the dynamic growth of space mining.

The experimental laboratory work, apart from recreating conditions on Phobos, will also address the problem of investigating the reactions of various types of ground to the lander’s foot load. Simulations of the contact between the lander and the satellite’s ground will be conducted on a mobile platform housed in one of the Faculty’s rooms. On the part of AGH UST the project involves five scientists as well as the Faculty’s Dean Professor Marek Cała and dr inż. Daniel Wałach – scientists in charge of particular tasks. Additionally, the research work will be supported by a group of second-degree students. The project must be completed by AGH UST and PAN’s Space Research Centre within two years.