Scottish Mars exploration plan given 4 mn pound funding

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - 11:29

London: A space programme led by a Scottish research group has received about 4 million pounds in funding to develop a drill to explore the surface of Mars.

The University of Glasgow`s space group is spearheading two of 12 new UK-led projects which have received the funding from the European Commission`s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

The 3.95 million pound of funding aims to boost research and education across Europe. The research will bring together experts from seven universities to collect and analyse data from satellite and earthbound observations of solar flares.
Dr Lyndsay Fletcher and Dr Nicolas Labrosse from the School of Physics and Astronomy will investigate the physics of solar flares, and the School of Engineering`s Dr Patrick Harkness and Professor Margaret Lucas will build a new type of drill tool to extract and contain samples from the surface of Mars.

The Ultrasonic Planetary Core Drill (UPCD) consortium brings together four partner organisations to build a tool capable of drilling and storing samples from the uniquely challenging surface of Mars.

Harkness said, "The Martian surface has features that look like dried up river-beds, suggesting that the planet may have been much wetter in the past.
"Even today, there may be brine near the surface. Samples of the surface rocks would be extremely useful to develop our understanding of how similar Mars might have been to the Earth and how the planets have diverged.

"We will build a tool that can core-drill a sample and then seal it inside the coring bit itself, so that the bit can serve as a sample return capsule, he said.

Planetary drilling is difficult because the low gravity makes it difficult to apply the large forces that are normally used to shatter rock on Earth, while the need to preserve the samples means that the rock temperature must be kept close to ambient.

The UPCD device will use these vibrations to generate percussion that will shatter the rock and allow the coring bit to progress, and then apply the vibrations directly to the tip of the coring bit to weld it closed with the samples and volatiles still trapped within.

The device will be field tested at one of the most Mars-like places on Earth, the permafrost of Devon Island in Canada s Baffin Bay, in summer 2016.

This should demonstrate the ability of the device to both extract samples and prepare them for return to Earth.


First Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - 11:29

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