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Hong Kong-made space tools get set for Mars

Press Release From: Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Posted: Friday, June 6, 2003

A European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft, carrying a rock sampling tool jointly developed by a local dentist and leading engineers of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has been launched this morning [3 June] from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

If the mission goes as planned and the spacecraft's Lander "Beagle 2" lands on Mars in late December 2003, this sophisticated space tool will become the first Chinese made instrument to touch the soil of a planet outside the Earth.

The PolyU-made sampling tool, known as the Mars Rock Corer, is considered the most important tool to help unlock the mystery of exobiology on the planet as it will be the first ever tool to drill into the surface of Mars.

The project is the joint effort of a 12 member team led by five Principal Investigators, Dr Ng Tze-chuen, a dentist and a University Fellow of PolyU, Prof.Yung Kai-leung, Dr Chris Wong Ho-ching and Mr Yu Chun-ho of PolyU; and Mr Chan Chiu-cheung, an independent engineer. The Corer was produced by skilled engineering staff using state-of-the-art facilities at the PolyU Industrial Centre. Prof. Yang Chen-ning, Nobel Laureate in Physics, is the Scientific Advisor of the project (Please refer to the Appendix for the full list of team members).

The development of the Mars Rock Corer and its predecessor the Space Holinser Forceps has come a long way. The Holinser Forceps, originated from a pair of dental forceps, were developed by PolyU engineers from a concept initiated by Dr Ng. The idea was developed into the Space Forceps System which consists of 70 inter-connectable components for used by astronauts in Space. In 1995, four sets of Holinser Forceps were ordered by the Russian Space Agency for use by astronauts in precision soldering at the then MIR Space Station.

Following their initial success, the team further ventured into interplanetary sampling and developed the multi-functional Mars Rock Corer which can grind, drill, core and grip rock samples, with energy consumption as low as two watts and weighs 370 grams only -- much lighter and energy-efficient than other similar instruments.

The device has cleverly integrated characteristics of Chinese chopsticks into the design for effective retrieval of samples from inside of rocks. The device has eventually been accepted by the ESA, leading to Hong Kong's involvement in the Mars Express Mission.

The Mars Express Mission comprises a number of essential components including an orbiter and the Beagle 2 Lander -- where the Mars Rock Corer and other scientific instruments are installed. The orbiter will deploy the Lander on the Martian surface and stay in its orbit for sub-surface water search. The Lander will then serve as a relay station for a series of remote sensing experiments to shed new light on the Martian atmosphere and its geology. As a main task of the Mars Express Mission is to search for signs of life in the rocks of the planet, the Mars Rock Corer could therefore become the first instrument to encounter life on a planet outside the Earth.

For more information about the Mars Express Mission, the Beagle 2 Lander and the Mars Rock Corer, please visit the website of ESA at

http://www.sci.esa.int http://www.beagle2.com and http://www.hkmars.net

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