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Micro-Penetrator for Canadian Planetary Exploration

Authors: Michaela Skulinova, Wanping Zheng, Yan-Ru Hu, Yvan Soucy

Abstract:

Space exploration is a highly visible endeavour of humankind to seek profound answers to questions about the origins of our solar system, whether life exists beyond Earth, and how we could live on other worlds. Different platforms have been utilized in planetary exploration missions, such as orbiters, landers, rovers, and penetrators. Having low mass, good mechanical contact with the surface, ability to acquire high quality scientific subsurface data, and ability to be deployed in areas that may not be conducive to landers or rovers, Penetrators provide an alternative and complimentary solution that makes possible scientific exploration of hardly accessible sites (icy areas, gully sites, highlands etc.). The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has put space exploration as one of the pillars of its space program, and established ExCo program to prepare Canada for future international planetary exploration. ExCo sets surface mobility as its focus and priority, and invests mainly in the development of rovers because of Canada's niche space robotics technology. Meanwhile, CSA is also investigating how micro-penetrators can help Canada to fulfill its scientific objectives for planetary exploration. This paper presents a review of the micro-penetrator technologies, past missions, and lessons learned. It gives a detailed analysis of the technical challenges of micro-penetrators, such as high impact survivability, high precision guidance navigation and control, thermal protection, communications, and etc. Then, a Canadian perspective of a possible micro-penetrator mission is given, including Canadian scientific objectives and priorities, potential instruments, and flight opportunities.

Keywords: micro-penetrator, CSA, planetary exploration

Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1055525

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