Sample analysis is at the heart of much exploration, both on Earth and off. Drilling and excavating materials is one of the best ways to understand the geology, history and environment of a planet — or a moon or asteroid. Sample acquisition and processing systems for flight must be robust, reliable and fault-tolerant, tough enough and smart enough to deal with high forces in a dusty, extreme-temperature, semi-uncontrolled environment. At the same time, they must achieve the precision and cleanliness necessary to interact with sensitive scientific instruments.
Honeybee has unmatched experience in developing technologies for the sample acquisition and processing chain. Field testing our systems in demanding environments that approximate places of interest, like Mars, enables us to make sure they’ll work in mission-critical situations.
We’ve supplied hardware for the three most recent Mars rover missions. On the Mars Exploration rovers Opportunity and Spirit, our Rock Abrasion Tool enabled NASA to peer into the inside of a rock on another planet for the first time ever. For the Phoenix Mars Lander we contributed a novel combination shovel and drill for the Icy Soil Acquisition Device (ISAD), sometimes called the “Phoenix Scoop.” And we developed the Dust Removal Tool (as well as the Sample Manipulation System) for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.
Our advanced drilling technologies include:
- Intelligent Drilling: Exploration spacecraft have strict limitations on the power, mass, and size available to drilling systems. Intelligent drilling systems make use of feedback from the drill itself to maximize results and avoid damaging the mechanism or getting stuck.
- Autonomous Drilling: Many robotic systems must operate without human intervention, especially when the robot is millions of miles from Earth.
- Sample Return Systems: Robotic explorers can perform a broad range of in situ science measurements, but no robot can pack the capability of a full laboratory. Returning Mars or lunar samples to Earth’s laboratories is a complex and challenging task that requires intelligent, autonomous systems capable of acquiring and caching samples in an unstructured environment while minimizing contamination. We have developed promising approaches to sample return missions using a variety of drilling and gas-induced technologies.