Polish scientists will help land a probe on a Martian moon

Polish scientists have launched research as part of a project to achieve the first landing on Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, the AGH Institute of Science and Technology, based in Katowice (southern Poland) announced in a statement on Wednesday.

The research, undertaken by academics from the AGH and the Space Research Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences (CBKPAN), will be used by the European Space Agency (ESA) as it implements project LOOP - Landing Once on Phobos.

LOOP aims to land the first probe on Phobos, one of the two moons of Mars. This is made difficult by conditions on the satellite, which have not yet been examined in detail.

What has been established is that Phobos, which spans over 6,000 square kilometres, has an almost 1,000 times lower gravitational acceleration than Earth, and the temperature varies between minus 4 and minus 112 degrees Celsius. To make matters worse, little is known about the satellite's ground, the regolith.

For these reasons, the key moment of the landing will be when the probe's foot makes contact with the surface of Phobos.

One of the tasks for the research team from the AGH's Department of Mining and Geo-engineering will be to determine the formation of Phobos' surface, the AGH's spokeswoman Anna Zmuda-Muszynska said in a statement.

Besides finding the material with a similar composition to the soil of the Martian moon, the AGH's academics will also develop a mathematical model of how the probe's foot will touch Phobos' surface. Due to low gravitational acceleration, it is important that the probe makes contact with the ground at the first attempt and does not bounce on impact.

The research project is merely one of various initiatives designed to develop principles for safe and multiple landings on asteroids, which are not only interesting scientifically, but can soon be used as a source of valuable raw materials. This will lead to a rapid growth of space mining in the coming years, the statement quoted the AGH's Professor Marek Cala as saying.