A graduate from Kingston University (KU) was among the engineers who worked on a Mars rover due to blast off to the Red Planet later this year.

Mahilal De Silva graduated from Kingston University in 2000 in aerospace engineering.

He's played a leading role in the construction of the European Space Agency (ESA)'s six-wheeled robotic vehicle, named the Rosalind Franklin after the British DNA pioneer.

Surrey Comet: Kingston University graduate Mahilal De SilvaKingston University graduate Mahilal De Silva

The landmark ExoMars mission's rover was developed by De Silva and others at Airbus' Stevenage facility and is designed to hunt for signs of life on Mars.

The ExoMars project – a joint mission of the European and Russian space agencies ESA and Roscosmos – is set to launch in July 2020 and will land on Mars eight months later.

Once there, it will use a 2m drill to dig into the ground in a bid to detect living or fossilised microbes.

Surrey Comet: The ExoMars test rover Bruno. Image: AirbusThe ExoMars test rover Bruno. Image: Airbus

De Silva was the lead assembly, integration and test (AIT) mechanical engineer on the rover build.

He spoke about his time working on one of the most exciting new space missions on the horizon.

"Being part of the ExoMars rover project has been a major milestone in my life," he said.

"From an engineering perspective, this is one of the most complex projects imaginable, with several countries working on individual aspects of the mission," De Silva added.

Surrey Comet: Engineers work on the Mars Rover build. Image: AirbusEngineers work on the Mars Rover build. Image: Airbus

Describing the project in further detail, the KU graduate spoke about what it takes to build something with the degree of precision needed to visit another planet.

Among the biggest challenges was making sure the Earth-built machine won't contaminate Mars after it makes contact.

"A key challenge for us was the need to construct the rover in completely sterile conditions, which meant the entire team had to be fully covered in special garments to prevent any contamination.

"Keeping everything clean was paramount and while it was difficult working in full suits, we mastered the process and soon got used to it," De Silva said.

De Silva he had been "fascinated" by space and Earth's place in the universe from a young age and that his degree in Kingston gave him the tools to take that interest further.

"My degree at Kingston University gave me a really strong technical grounding and so much confidence as a young engineer.

"It provided me with a great foundation to move into the space industry, build on the skills I'd learned and end up getting the opportunity to work on projects of this magnitude," he said.

Indeed, prior to his work on ExoMars, the aerospace engineer worked on BepiColombo, the European Space Agency's science satellite mission to Mercury.

None of his previous endeavours will likely compare to what amounts to an historic first for the joint ESA-Roscosmos missio.

"A project like this presents a serious engineering challenge as this is something that's never been built before in Europe," De Silva said.