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Maturation of Instruments for Solar System Exploration

Auto-Gopher2: Autonomous Wireline Core and Cutting Acquisition Probe for Deep Penetration and Sampling of Bodies in the Solar System.

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Auto-Gopher2: Autonomous Wireline Core and Cutting Acquisition Probe for Deep Penetration and Sampling of Bodies in the Solar System.

One of the most pressing current questions in space science is whether life has ever arisen anywhere else in the universe. Water is a critical prerequisite for all life-as we-know-it, thus the possible exploration targets for extraterrestrial life are bodies that have or had copious liquid: Mars, Europa, Titan, and Enceladus. Due to the oxidizing nature of Mars surfaces and large radiation fluxes on planetary surfaces, the search for evidence of extinct oextant life must likely focus on subsurface locations, at depths sufficient to support liquid water or retain biologic signatures. To address these questions, a drill system is required to penetrate the subsurface of the explored bodied and capture samples for analysis. Conventional deep drills use so called drill string: a continuous tube of screwed pipes. To penetrate deeper, additional section of drill pipes are screwed in adding significant mass where great depth need to be reached. This approach is best suited for applications, where mass is not an issue. However, in planetary exploration, mass is a major driver. Wireline operation sidesteps one of the major drawbacks of traditional continuous drill string systems by obviating the need for multiple drill sections, which not only add to the mass but also complexity of the system. The wireline drill is suspended on a tether and its motors and mechanisms are built into a tube that ends with a coring bit. The tether provides the mechanical connection to a rover/lander on a surface as well as power and data communication. Upon penetrating a coring depth, which is the length of the coring section, the drill is retracted from the borehole, the core is deposited into a sample transfer system, and the drill is lowered back into the hole and the process is repeated till the full targeted depth is reached. In an ASTEP funded task that was completed in 2012, an Auto-Gopher2 wireline drill reached TRL 4 and was demonstrated as to perform semi-autonomous coring in a 40 MPa gypsum to a depth of 3 m, which is 1.5X the drill?s length. Building on this promising technology for deep drilling in the icy bodies of Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and Martian permafrost, we propose to develop a fully autonomous Auto-Gopher2 wireline system. The drill will reach TRL 5/6 (tested at 6 torr and -40°C). To produce a fully autonomous system we plan to incorporate optimal capabilities of 1. core breakoff, 2. core capture, 3. core ejection, 4. embedded electronics, and 5. autonomous drilling with fault detection. The Auto-Gopher2 critical subsystems will be breadboarded and tested in Y1. The drill will be designed and its components tested in Y2, and fabricated in Y2 and Y3. In Y3, we will perform system level tests in 40 MPa rock (similar strength to ice) in a laboratory. After successful tests, we will perform environmental tests in our 3.5 m vacuum chamber. The demonstration will be performed in the following formations: ice, ice cemented ground, ice and ice cemented ground with rocks.

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