Honeybee Robotics Secures Six Phase I SBIR/STTR Awards From NASA For Spacecraft, Drilling, And Sampling System Development

May 24, 2017 – Honeybee Robotics today announced it has received four NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards and two NASA Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I award to develop new spacecraft systems and enabling technologies. The awards will allow Honeybee to analyze concepts for advanced future planetary exploration, sampling, in-situ resource utilization, and on-orbit operations.

The SLUSH: Europa Hybrid Deep Drill project will initiate development of a novel drilling system designed to penetrate the icy shell on Europa and other planetary bodies. This system overcomes the problems that can affect melt probes and electro-mechanical drills as they attempt to reach deep into a frozen planetary surface. Melt probes using a hot point to melt through ice and penetrate downward are mechanically simple but require significantly more power than likely available to a planetary probe, and can be stopped by rocks or other non-ice materials. An electro-mechanical drill is an order of magnitude more energy efficient than a melt probe but needs to remove cuttings and can also freeze in-place if it encounters any liquid water. SLUSH is a hybrid approach that takes the best of both worlds, with a hot-point electro-mechanical drill that cuts through ice using rotary-percussive action, and melts chips with its hot bit to form slush that is transferred up the hole where it refreezes behind the drill. An added benefit of SLUSH is that science instruments can draw liquid directly from the outside for analysis.

The Europa Drum Sampler (EDuS) project will begin development of a robust and effective sample acquisition system for the Europa lander. The sampler is based on a terrestrial roadheader design and includes a mechanism that generates percussive vibrations during rotary excavation to reduce cutting forces and aid in sample delivery. All components will be designed to withstand Dry Heat Microbial Reduction as well as Planetary Protection requirements.

The High Temperature Stirling Cooler project will begin development of a miniature Stirling cooler, suitable for integration with a sensor package at the end of an effector or robot arm, which is capable of keeping conventional electronics cool outside of the spacecraft body in the high temperature Venus environment. While mechanisms, motors, and some electronics have been designed for use in high temperature/high pressure environments such as the surface of Venus (460°C, 93 bar), certain types of critical electronic and sensing technologies are inherently temperature sensitive. This cooler will vastly expand the list of technologies which can be deployed on the surface of Venus, and correspondingly advance the types of science that can be performed.

The Universal Docking Interface project will initiate the creation of a universal electromechanical engagement interface for free-flying robots, enhancing their abilities for intravehicular, extravehicular, and planetary surface operations. By providing a common electromechanical interface, the UDI will enhance capabilities to mount and manipulate tools, sensors, payloads; dock for power and data transfer; perch for short- or long-term storage; and create new modular structures in support of commercial operations and human spaceflight.

The Planetary LEGO STTR project, conducted with the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES), will study how to produce prototype building blocks made of simulated lunar and Martian soil to determine how landing pads, roads, habitats and shelters could be built using robotic systems. By using in-situ resources as the main construction material, it will be possible to reduce the volume and mass of construction materials to be transported from Earth.

The Instrumented Bit for In-Situ Spectroscopy (IBISS) STTR project, conducted with the SETI Institute, will integrate a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) probe with a drill bit to allow for the rapid evaluation of subsurface soil on other worlds. This technology is designed to provide a rapid and unambiguous chemical/mineralogical characterization of subsurface materials. Such a system has applications in a landed exploration mission to Venus, Moon, Mars, Europa, Titan, comets, and asteroids, and for sample return missions to the Moon, Mars, comets and asteroids.