NASA SBIR 2007 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 07-2 S5.03-9066
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Sample Collection, Processing, and Handling Devices
PROPOSAL TITLE: SASSI: Subsystems for Automated Subsurface Sampling Instruments

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Honeybee Robotics Ltd.
460 W 34th Street
New York, NY 10001 - 2320
(646) 459-7802

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Kris Zacny
460 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001 - 2320
(510) 207-4555

Expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) upon completion of contract: 5 to 6

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
Autonomous surface sampling systems are necessary, near term, to construct a historical view of planetary significant events; as well as allow for the identification of materials useful for ISRU activities. Paramount to this is exploration missions capable of in-situ analysis of core samples that deliver the stratigraphy of the target. These sample handling technologies must be developed to meet a broad range of potential requirements, including a variety of rock or subsurface materials, rigorous sample preservation requirements, and the general problem of autonomous operation in the presence of dust and with limited resources. Honeybee seeks to develop critical subsystems for a small, low-mass, low-power Rotary-Percussive Corer (RoPeC) capable of autonomous sample acquisition and delivery from a depth of 5 cm. Specific attention will be given to the tall-pole items including the core break-off, retention, delivery, rotary-percussive drive, and gas flushing subsystems. Near term applications include the Astrobiology Field Laboratory and Mars Sample Return missions. Previous coring tool development has focused on integration and far-horizon proof of concepts; resulting in complete systems designed around specific requirements. The path forward lies in maturing specific aspects of designs quickly. The Phase 1 research has resulted in a survey of existing sampling systems as well as a conceptual design of the RoPeC with a focus on modularity. In Phase 2, Honeybee will mature the design of RoPeC subsystems; including the integration of a percussive voice coil actuator developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Powder Acquisition Drill System. A focus on modularity will ensure that subsystems can be redesigned independently; enabling the acquisition of core samples in targets including MEPAG suggested rocks, MSL Mars analogs and Phoenix analogs. This will lead to the a TRL of 5-6.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Future robotic astrobiology missions such as Astrobiology Field Laboratory or Mars Sample Return will benefit greatly from the ability to capture rock and regolith cores. The drill could be also deployed during lunar sortie missions by astronauts (hand held coring drill) since it is desirable to bring a small core back as opposed to a large rock.

From a science standpoint, core samples have a distinct advantage over collected drill cuttings in that the stratigraphy and morphology of the sample is preserved. This facilitates detection of localized organics and fossil biosignatures, as well as analysis of geochemistry and mineralogy. The need for a flight-ready surface coring tool has been evident in various NASA program reviews, mission concepts, and mission baselines.

RoPeC, a low-mass, low-power drill, will reach a depth of 5cm in rock, regolith, and icy soil, and will be robotic-arm-mountable, enabling access to outcroppings and other non-horizontal target formations. Using a rotary-percussive drilling mechanism will enable penetration of strong basaltic or icy targets without unduly compromising tool life or power requirements. During phase 2, Honeybee will perform a comprehensive study to determine the mass/cost/schedule requirements to make RoPeC flight ready.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Rotary-percussive drilling has many terrestrial applications in industry, as well as in research and development. Scientists often use coring tools to acquire core samples for the study of everything between geological classification to ocean drilling and surveying. Traditionally, petroleum engineers will use large cores to extract information about boundaries between sandstone, limestone, and shale. This process is time consuming so smaller cores are sometimes taken. This method of sampling is called sidewall coring and provides more information to the petroleum engineering than simply logging data. Both rotary and percussive methods are currently utilized, but increased efficiency is likely possible through a combination such as utilized in the RoPeC design. Scientists studying earthquake mechanics could also benefit from the use of the RoPeC in a similar fashion. Automation of this process would save time and money; enabling the science goals of the research with reduced schedule and budget risk/impact. The RoPeC also has applications for the study of terrestrial biology, such as coring into rocks in the Arctic, Antarctic, or other desirable locations. Tullis Onstott of the Department of Geosciences from Princeton University has expressed interest in a coring tool for sampling tunnel face and biofilm-rock interfaces at the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.

In-situ Resource Utilization
Integrated Robotic Concepts and Systems

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