PAS Space Research Centre will help land a probe on Phobos

The Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences is currently engaged in two ESA’s (European Space Agency) projects concerning landing on Phobos – one of Martians moons.

loop zespolfrom left: dr inż. Daniel Wałach (AGH), dr inż. Katarzyna Cyran (AGH), dr inż. Tomasz Barciński (CBK), inż. Jędrzej Baran (CBK), prof. dr hab. inż. Marek Cała (AGH)

In the first ESA REST project (with GMV Romania, AVS United Kingdom participation), the Space Research Centre is responsible for modelling the landing gear dynamics through developing active steering system. In the second project, launched as part of the Polish Industry Incentive Scheme LOOP (Landing Once on Phobos), undertaken in cooperation with the Faculty of Mining and Geoengineering of the AGH University of Science and Technology as a subcontractor, the Space Research Centre will formulate the mathematical model of the contact process between the lander’s foot and analogues of Phobos surface. The methodology developed under these two projects may find application not only in landing on the Martian moon, but also in landing on any other planetoid that may seem attractive from the economic point of view.

The collaboration between the PAS Space Research Centre and the AGH University of Science and Technology also includes plans to create interdisciplinary doctoral studies in the field of space mining.

The issue of designing and constructing an instrument or a spacecraft capable of landing on a small astronomical body, such as planetoid, comet or small moon, in microgravity conditions can be analyzed in several ways. In the case of a free fall when the instrument hits the surface of a planetoid at a slow speed of about 1m/s, the landing might be easier as there is no need to equip the instrument with additional rocket or air braking. However, landing in a low gravity environment may also appear problematic as the lander may bounce off the ground like a tennis ball. Such a situation already took place during the ESA’s ROSETTA mission when the lander bounced several times on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko before settling down. To sum up, in order to perform safe and soft landing, the landing gear dynamics must harmonize with the forces acting on the lander during touchdown, these simulations will be performed at the PAS Space Research Centre.