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The Poles are working on a solution that would help bring samples from Mars to Earth

Samples collected by the Persevering Rover on Mars are expected to reach Earth in 2031. Polish engineers have developed a prototype landing gear for the rover responsible for collecting samples and transmitting them to the spacecraft that will take them back to Earth.

Engineers from the Polish company PIAP Space are working in an international consortium with Airbus (the main contractor of the project) and MDA to develop a prototype of the Sample Fetch Rover (SFR) chassis. The project is funded by the European Space Agency (ESA).

SFR will play a key role in the Mars Sample Return Program (2020-2030). This program is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency, the main objective of which is to bring to Earth research materials collected during the last years of Mars exploration.

The first phase of this program has started amazingly and is still going on. As part of it, the persistent rover landed in the region of Martian Jezero crater in 2021 and obtained samples from geologically interesting places on the Red Planet. The collected material will be stored in 43 cylindrical tubes and left on the planet’s surface for later collection.

In the second phase of the program, which will begin in 2026, the rocket carrying the probe and the Fetch Rover sample on board will go to Mars to retrieve the prepared samples. The rover will do its work using a robotic arm and place the materials into the container of the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV). He will take them to the ground for a detailed analysis.

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Work on the SFR rover chassis prototype was carried out in 2020-2021. PIAP Space was responsible for the detailed design, production, technological improvements and initial testing of the SFR chassis. Canadian company MDA created the software, 3D design and electrical diagrams of the chassis, while Swiss RUAG was responsible for systems engineering and supervision of device validation.

One of the most difficult tasks that Polish engineers faced when designing the device was dealing with Mars … dust and dust. “All moving parts, engines and mechanisms must be sealed, because the diameter of Martian dust is ten times smaller than the sand of the Earth. It reaches everywhere” – Mateusz Volsky, Chairman of the Board of Directors of PIAP Space, described in an interview with PAP.

In November 2021, the prototype of the machine was delivered to the headquarters of RUAG in Switzerland, where it is undergoing traction tests. Now, in Great Britain, other elements of the rover equipment are installed on it, which in the end will weigh about 100 kg. In the fall, the structure will be tested in the designated Mars area for Airbus UK in Stevenage, UK.

“If these tests are successful, the next step will be to develop an engineering model, then a qualification model and a model for the flight landing gear. At each stage, corrections and improvements are made from the tests to make this final device reliable. In the next stages, however, the decision About who will build the finished device before us ”- admits the researcher.

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He explains that due to the mission’s prestige and to reduce the risk of failure, NASA and the European Space Agency have adopted a methodology for building later prototypes. “We are at the beginning of a certain path. However, we hope that the solutions implemented in the device will become the basis for building the target Mars probe, which will be necessary to bring samples from Mars to Earth” – he adds .

In the final phase of the Mars Sample Return Program, the European Space Agency’s Earth Return Orbiter will launch on an Ariane 6 rocket in October 2026. It will reach Mars in 2027 using ion propulsion as well as a separate thruster to gradually lower its orbit to the appropriate low Mars orbit. By July 2028, the rover will intercept the MAV from low Mars orbit and transport samples to the Earth’s surface. The capsule will return to Earth in 2031 during the transition from Mars to Earth.