March 10, 2014. Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation today announced it has received two NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards for new approaches to comet and planetary sampling technology. The awards will build on Phase I development undertaken in 2013, funding development of prototypes for testing and performance analysis to prepare for future planetary and comet sampling missions.
“There is growing interest within NASA for collecting and caching samples from Mars, the Moon, asteroids and comets,” said Kris Zacny, Vice President & Director, Exploration Technology at Honeybee Robotics. “Honeybee has a heritage of planetary sample collection and processing, a critical capability to understand the history of the solar system and find potentially habitable environments beyond Earth. We’re excited to be working in support of NASA’s exploration programs by developing reliable and effective sample collection systems that solve big challenges in very small packages.”
The Comet Surface Sample Return Probe project will develop spacecraft systems necessary to obtain a sample from the nucleus of a comet, hermetically seal the sample within a capsule, and return the sealed sample to an orbiting spacecraft which can return the sample to Earth. In Phase I of the project, Honeybee developed a systems level concept for the Comet Surface Sample Return Probe. Phase II of the project will build on these designs, including the sample acquisition and handling subsystem, a sealed sample return canister, and a full scale mockup of the Comet Surface Sample Return Probe, developed to TRL 5. The scope also includes analysis of the mechanics of orbiting, approach and landing on a comet.
The Nano Drill is a novel rotary percussive coring drill that weighs less than 1 kg, and could be used by both robotic platforms and astronauts. The drill uses a novel method of core or powder acquisition suitable for acquiring samples of rock core, icy-soil or loose regolith. For future robotic and human missions to Mars, the moon, asteroids, and other planetary bodies, acquiring core samples (as opposed to scooped samples or collected drill cuttings) are of particular interest. Honeybee will build and test the Nano Drill in both the laboratory and the field to demonstrate the drill’s performance in different environments and in relevant operational scenarios, bringing the technology to TRL 6 by project’s end.
Honeybee has over two decades of experience developing a range of effective planetary sampling and processing systems. For more information on the company’s technology in this sector, visit http://www.honeybeerobotics.com/services/space/planetary-exploration/, or view a portfolio of selected planetary drilling and sampling systems at http://www.honeybeerobotics.com/technology/drilling-mars/.