Tool samples soil on Martian moon

The Space Research Centre at the Polish Academy of Sciences (SRC PAS) in Warsaw, Poland, has begun work on a ’geological penetrator’ that will be used to extract a soil sample from the surface of Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons.

Dubbed Chomik (which is Polish for hamster), the tool will contribute to the Russian space mission, Phobos Sample Return. Due to be launched in 2011, the mission will give space scientists vital information about the mysterious Martian moon.

The geological penetrator is being designed at the Space Mechatronics and Robotics Laboratory at the SRC PAS. Chomik’s task of collecting the soil sample and returning it to Earth for analysis makes it one of the most important parts of the Phobos Sample Return mission.

The spacecraft will be launched in November 2011. It will reach the orbit of Mars 11 months later and is scheduled to land on Phobos at the beginning of 2013. It will take off again a month later, after extracting the soil sample that will be brought back to Earth in a secure capsule.

If all goes well, the re-entry module will land in Kazakhstan in 2014. ’Assuming everything goes according to plan, in a few years we will be in possession of the first object acquired from a different planet’s moon,’ said SRC PAS engineer Karol Seweryn.

Phobos orbits Mars at a distance of only 9,400km, which is about 40 times less than the distance between the Earth and its moon. Phobos has been of great interest to space scientists for years because of its low density, low gravity and unusual orbit.