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Concepts for Ocean Worlds Life Detection Technology

Integrated Sample Acquisition Drill and Pneumatic Sample Delivery for Ocean Worlds

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Integrated Sample Acquisition Drill and Pneumatic Sample Delivery for Ocean Worlds
Scientific Goals & Objectives: One of the most pressing questions in exploration is whether life exists or existed anywhere else in the universe. Water is a critical prerequisite for life as we-know it, thus targets for extraterrestrial life are bodies that have or had liquid water, i.e. Ocean Worlds such as Titan or Europa. Due to the large radiation fluxes at Europa, or the possibility for burial by aeolian sediment at Titan, the search for life demands the capability to sample subsurface locations. Methodology: State-of-the-art life detection instruments require a sampling system to deliver a subsurface sample to the instrument (non-contact instruments alone are insufficient). A sampling operation normally has four steps: 1. sampler deployment, 2. material excavation, 3. sample capture, and 4. sample delivery. These steps have to be considered in a context of the entire system rather than a stand-alone operation. A review of the sampling approaches deployed on other bodies show that scoops and drills were methods of choice. Scoops were used for sampling loose materials while drills for competent materials. Many adaptations of terrestrial excavation approaches and numerous exotic systems have been proposed and developed in the past. Yet, rarely can they compete with the scoop/drill approach, unless in unique scenarios such as the Touch and Go operations that last seconds. We developed dozens of sampling systems: scoops, trenchers, rasps, harpoons, piercing blades, spinning cutters, clams and others. However, only hammer drills solved all the challenges related to excavation, sample capture, and drop off. In addition, drills penetrated deeper than other systems and were easily scaled up or down to capture a desired sample volume from depth. We therefore propose to develop a drill-based Integrated Sampling System (ISS) for Titan (the system or its subsystems would be applicable to other Ocean Worlds with some level of modification). To date, no sampling systems have been developed that could successfully deal with a range of Titan’s cryogenic materials: rocks, soils, sticky soils, and liquids (hydrocarbons on Titan). The proposed ISS captures the most promising approaches developed over the past 10 years at Honeybee into a single, fully integrated system. The drill will be baselined to reach 20 cm in depth and capture up to 20 samples 1 cc each, or fewer samples of greater volume. In Y1, we will perform numerous risk reduction tests using existing TRL 4/5 drilling system and various breadboards under Titan environments with appropriate analog materials. All tests will be done at -20 °C walk-in freezer with LN2 sample cooling (90K). Heat and mass transfer mechanics are sufficiently similar at 1 atm compared with Titan conditions to allow confident scaling of test results to Titan's 1.45 atm, 95% N2 atmosphere. We will study deployment options, drill bit configurations, drilling methods, and sample transfer and drop-off methods. Lessons from this test-heavy phase will be used to trade various architectures and subsequently to develop and test a TRL6 ISS in Y2. Our experience with the Mars Phoenix hardware for Mars’s special regions (Planetary Protection, cat IVb) will guide materials and design choices. The data will be available to public (via publications) and future missions. The ISS, once at TRL6, would be easily infused into future missions, with little to no modifications. Team: Our team brings expertise in Ocean Worlds environments and science goals, is experienced in the development and testing of planetary samplers, as well as in developing of flight hardware and operating of such flight hardware in actual missions. Relevance to this call: The proposal directly addresses the call: COLDTech seeks to “develop and advance sample acquisition, delivery and analysis systems. Sample distribution systems capable of parsing and delivering samples to multiple instruments are also of interest”. More »

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