How Mars-elous! Space ‘umbilical cord’ for Red Planet exploration is ready to go

The device from SENER Polska will play a crucial role in the ExoMars mission which is looking for traces of life both on and below the Red Planet’s surface. Sener/ESA

Polish space engineers are helping take exploration of Mars to a new level with an outer space ‘umbilical cord’.

The device from SENER Polska will play a crucial role in the ExoMars mission which is looking for traces of life both on and below the Red Planet’s surface.

A cooperation between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian Roscosmos, the ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) mission will launch the Kazachok lander with the Rosalind Franklin rover on board in 2020 and land on Mars a year later.

The rover will be the most advanced European robot ever sent to another planet. Sener/ESA

This will be the most advanced European robot ever sent to another planet.

Michał Szwajewski, SENER Polska’s project manager said: “The umbilical cord is a mechanism for releasing the electric connection between the Mars rover and the lander.

“At the time of landing, the platform opens solar panels to power the rover with electricity that was lost during the flight. 

The umbilical cord is a vital mechanism for releasing the electric connection between the Mars rover and the lander.Sener/ESA

“The transmission of electricity and all signals collected from the platform is carried out by our mechanism and through this connection.”

Once the rover, folded on the landing platform, gets the right dose of electricity, it will rise on its wheels, ready to roll. “Our mechanism disconnects it and the rover descends to Mars,” added Szwajewski.

The system designed and manufactured in Poland by SENER consists of two devices - primary and backup.

Upon landing, the platform opens solar panels to power the rover with electricity that was lost during the flight.Sener/ESA

In addition to the extreme conditions of interplanetary space, characterized by high radiation and temperatures plunging to -135 degrees Celsius, the mechanism will also have to deal with both take-off and landing, as well as the dust and atmospheric conditions of the planet.

At the same time, it has to be kept in biologically pristine conditions, so that no material from Earth can falsify the results of its research on Mars.

The umbilical cord is now ready to be integrated with the rest of the equipment going to Mars.

Michał Szwajewski, SENER Polska’s project manager said that once the rover  gets enough electricity, “our mechanism disconnects it and the rover descends to Mars.”Sener/ESA

Szwajewski said: “Disconnecting the umbilical cord from the ‘life-giving landing platform’ will give the green light for the mission to begin.”

SENER Polska began its work on the umbilical cord in 2015, after signing a contract with Airbus Defence and Space, which is responsible for the entirety of the Mars rover.

The Polish company’s work on the umbilical cord included the whole process - from the conceptual stage, through production and testing, to the production of flight models, which are to land on Mars in 2021.

SENER Polska began its work on the umbilical cord in 2015, after signing a contract with Airbus Defence and Space, which is responsible for the entirety of the Mars rover. Sener/ESA

SENER cooperated with six Polish partners who participated helped produce the mechanism’s components and devices enabling its assembly and transport, as well as providing infrastructure for testing.

In total, over 20 percent of the project value went to subcontractors.