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Center Independent Research & Development: JPL IRAD

Venus Suface Sampling and Analysis

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

This effort is developing the technology to transfer particulate samples from a Venus drill (being developed by Honeybee Robotics in a Phase 2 Small Business Innovative Rearch task) inside a lander pressure vessel and thermal barrier and to present them to instruments for analysis under Earth-like temperature and low pressure environment.

The overall objective of this task is to develop a Venus surface sample acquisition and transfer system that can reliably provide particulate samples of sufficient quantity and presentation location for instruments located inside a lander to perform useful analysis. Development priority was given to the high temperature, high pressure external functions and the transition element between external high-pressure, high-temperature conditions and the internal low-pressure, room-temperature conditions where the instruments would operate, because that is where most of the mission risk resides. Fortunately, JPL has partnered with Honeybee Robotics on the Venus lander mission and they have already developed prototypes of a rotary drill, electric actuators and a gear box that operate at high temperatures. Honeybee has further matured their technology in this, the first of two years of a separate Phase 2 SBIR task. The JPL strategy for this R&TD proposal is to focus on component and subsystem technology development to provide the other required functions of the overall system. Development in this sense consists of design, fabrication and successful testing of prototype hardware under a relevant environment (TRL 5). The guiding philosophy of this effort has been to expand beyond the Soviet Venera sampling solution that was limited to a single sample from a single drill delivered to a single instrument in a lander resting on flat (<10° slope) terrain. In particular, there is a strong desire to be able to accommodate two instruments such as JPL’s CIRS (a Raman Spectrometer) and PIXL (an X-ray fluorescence instrument) for mineralogical and elemental abundance analyses, and to present the surface samples in a benign environment to minimize adaptation of these instruments for use at Venus. We accepted this premise and made other assumptions in this task, understanding full well that mission trades may require ongoing adaptation of the sample system development as trades are closed and decisions made.
The quantitative capability goal is that two particulate samples would be provided for analysis by two instruments either as soil/dirt from the surface or as cuttings created during the sample excavation process. The sample would be presented to the instruments in a sample cup of size >2 cm in diameter and with a depth of >0.1 mm given lander orientations of up to 20° from horizontal. The sample measurement environment would be low temperature (notionally 30 °C) and low pressure (< 1 atm). It is assumed that one sample would be from the weathered surface material at a depth of 0-2 cm and the second from presumably unweathered material (if drilled from competent rock) at a depth of 2-4 cm. The sampling system will accommodate a wide range of surface material hardness from loose soil to basalt (7-8 on the Moh scale).

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