Poland as a cosmic revolution? A Pioneering Project in the NASA and ESA Mission – News

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

Spectacular start to the mission

The SFR rover will play a key role in the Mars Sample Return program (2020-2030). This program is a joint venture of NASA and ESA, with the main goal of transporting research materials collected during the last years of Mars exploration.

The first phase of this program started spectacularly and is still ongoing. As part of this, the Perseverance rover landed in Mars’ Jezero crater in 2021 and obtains samples from geologically interesting places on the Red Planet. The collected materials will be stored in 43 cylindrical tubes and left on the Earth’s surface for later collection.

In the second phase of the program, which starts in 2026, the rocket will travel to Mars with the lander and Sample Fetch Rover on board to retrieve prepared samples. The rover will do its job using a robotic arm and place the materials in a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) container. He will transport them to Earth so that they can be subjected to a detailed analysis.

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

Too much… dirt on Mars

One of the most difficult tasks for Polish engineers when designing the device was dealing with Martian dust and dust. “All moving parts, motors and mechanisms must be properly sealed, because dust from Mars is ten times smaller in diameter than Earth’s sand. It gets everywhere” – Mateusz Wolski, chairman of the board of directors of PIAP Space, describes in an interview with PAP.

In November 2021, the prototype of the device was delivered to the RUAG headquarters in Switzerland, where it is subjected to traction tests. Now in Britain, other pieces of equipment from the rover are being mounted on it, which will eventually weigh about 100 kg. The construction will be tested in the autumn in Airbus UK’s mapped Mars area in Stevenage, UK.

“If these tests are successful, the next step is to develop a technical model, then a qualification model and a landing gear model. At each stage, corrections and improvements are made based on the tests to make this final device reliable. next stages we are. However, the decision on who will build the final device is before us “- admits the researcher.

He explains that because of the mission’s prestige and to minimize the risk of failure, NASA and ESA have adopted a method 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 the construction of the target Mars rover, which will be needed to collect samples from Mars. to Earth” – he adds.

In the final phase of the Mars Sample Return program, ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter will be launched on the Ariane 6 rocket in October 2026. It will reach Mars in 2027 using an ion propulsion element and a separate propulsion element to gradually lower its orbit to proper low Mars orbit in July 2028. It will intercept MAV from low Mars orbit and transport samples to Earth’s surface. The capsule will return to Earth in 2031 during the Mars-to-Earth transfer window.

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