Honeybee Robotics To Advance Planetary Sampling Systems

March 24, 2016 – Honeybee Robotics today announced it has received two NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards for new approaches to planetary sampling and resource extraction technology. The awards will fund further development of technologies to support future planetary exploration and in-situ resource utilization, including harvesting water for human and robotic exploration of the Solar System.

“These two SBIR Phase II awards enable Honeybee to continue to advance our planetary sampling and in-situ resource utilization technologies,” said Kris Zacny, Vice President & Director, Exploration Technology at Honeybee Robotics. “Sample return from Mars remains a high priority for the scientific community, and our goal with the Sample Return Canister and Sealing System is to help future missions return material in as pristine condition as possible. With the Planetary Volatiles Extractor, we are developing a new way to gather volatile material such as water from the Moon, Mars, asteroids, or comets, which would greatly extend mission life—whether used for human consumption or processed into rocket fuel.”

The Sample Return Canister and Sealing System builds on a Phase I project, which investigated five techniques for hermetic sealing of sample canisters: knife edge, shape memory alloy, C-ring, O-ring, and brazing. In Phase II of the proposed investigation, Honeybee will design, fabricate, and test high fidelity prototypes of the hermetic sealing canister and sealing system. The size and shape of the canisters will be designed to fit the requirements of the Mars sample return mission, and the canisters will include thermal insulation to protect and preserve volatile material within the samples.

The Planetary Volatiles Extractor builds on a Phase I project, which investigated different architectures to extract water and other volatiles from cryogenic soil as found on parts of the Moon, Mars, and Near-Earth Objects. Traditional extraction techniques based on mining and transportation of icy material face challenges due to the cohesive nature of the icy material, and the tendency for ice to sublime, leaving behind dry soil. The Planetary Volatiles Extractor uses a different approach, in which a coring drill with a heating element extracts volatiles directly from the soil, increasing yield and reducing challenges associated with material handling.

During Phase II, Honeybee will fabricate a TRL5 prototype and perform tests in a vacuum chamber to determine drilling energies in various formations, volatiles extraction efficiency, and efficiency of volatiles transfer.