Honeybee Robotics is a proud supporter of NASA’s exploration missions. Our systems for drilling, coring, and physical sampling of Mars, the moon, and asteroids are designed to support scientific inquiry and human exploration. Honeybee Robotics has been building planetary drills and sampling systems for over 20 years, and have built and tested 10 different core drilling systems. We have unique insight and expertise into making high-performance, autonomous, reliable drilling and sampling systems for space.
Mars Exploration Rovers (2003)
The twin rovers in the Mars Exploration Rover program, Spirit and Opportunity, were designed to analyze the geology and environment of Mars. Honeybee Robotics designed, developed and operated the Rock Abrasion Tool
(RAT) on the end of each rover’s robotic arm. The RAT was the first tool ever to gain access to the interior of rocks on Mars. The RAT uses grinding wheels of diamond dust and resin to gently abrade the surface of Martian rocks, enabling the rover to act as a virtual field geologist and help scientists understand the pasts and current environment on Mars. Together, the RATs have performed hundreds of grinds and the system on Opportunity remains functional some 10 years after its first use.
Phoenix Mars Lander (2007)
The Phoenix Mars Lander mission was designed to directly test water ice in the polar regions of Mars. Honeybee Robotics built the Icy Soil Acquisition Device
(ISAD), sometimes called the Phoenix Scoop, to excavate Mars dirt and ice. The Phoenix Scoop, at the end of a robotic arm over 2 meters long, provided multiple ways for the surface operation team to excavate hard, compacted icy soil, and performed successfully multiple times. The success of ISAD provided invaluable data on the the planet’s water cycle, in addition to being the first tool to come into direct contact with water ice in the Martian polar regions.
Mars Science Laboratory (2011)
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is the most advanced rover ever sent to Mars, and the first true mobile laboratory. It is designed to investigate whether Mars has, or had, environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life. Honeybee Robotics has developed two integral systems for the MSL rover, Curiosity: the Sample Manipulation System
(SMS) and the Dust Removal Tool
(DRT). These systems are critical components that enable the mission to explore and analyze the Martian environment during NASA’s search for organic compounds on Mars.
Plans for the Mars 2020 mission are based on the successful Mars Science Laboratory landing system and vehicle platform, giving the program its nickname of Curiosity2. A major advance is to provide the first step for a long-sought objective: Mars Sample Return (MSR), the delivery of cached rock samples to Earth for analysis. Such sample acquisition and return relies on a coring drill, caching system and other associated tools and instruments. Honeybee’s expertise in planetary drilling, core sample acquisition, and sample caching
provides many viable approaches to a sample return mission. The company’s technologies feature lightweight drills that can take multiple core samples from a variety of rocks; intelligent drilling systems that provide fault-tolerant operations; and a range of drill bits to capture whole rock cores (PDF)
or just specific samples.
Lunar Sampling and Resource Utilization
The space exploration community is steadily moving towards establishing a semi-permanent base on the Moon. Excavation of the lunar regolith will be a key aspect of achieving this goal, both for the construction of base structures and for the mining of oxygen-rich material for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). Honeybee has been working on the challenge of mining on the moon. Low gravity means that unmanned systems can’t rely on traditional downforce for excavation. The fine lunar dust abrades surfaces and destroys mechanical components. And with no atmosphere, traditional wet lubrication does not work. Honeybee Robotics has several technologies under development to address the challenges of Lunar ISRU:• Percussive digger. The percussive digger uses vibration or hammer action to reduce required digging forces by a factor of 40. This in turn reduces the mass requirement of the lunar excavator. Because every kilogram of Lunar mission payload adds approximately $100,000 to mission cost, this technology offers billions of dollars in savings.• Pneumatic mining and transfer. Pneumatic excavation
is an emerging technology which uses gas to mine and transport regolith. Initial test results have shown that one gram of pressurized gas can loft almost 6,000 grams of soil under lunar-like conditions (gravity and vacuum). The excavation gas can be carried in liquid form in a designated tank, generated on-site by burning residual propellant in the lander, or even generated as a byproduct of the ISRU reaction process. Because the pneumatic system has no moving parts it is ideally suited to the abrasive lunar environment.
Asteroid Mining and Sampling
The space community is examining the potential to mine resources from asteroids, both to gather scarce resources for Earth and to support human spaceflight. Many asteroids are rich in water, an essential resource for human spaceflight missions, both to support astronauts and as a building block for rocket fuel or other valuable compounds. Harvesting water from asteroids, however, is a nontrivial process. Lack of significant gravity and the cold vacuum of space thwart traditional mining techniques.Honeybee is working on a variety of technologies to sample and mine asteroids. Our Asteroid Water Extractor
is designed to acquire icy soil samples and extract the water. We are working on requirements for human tools that would be effective on asteroids and other extremely low-gravity bodies such as the Mars moons Phobos and Deimos. And we are partnering with industry leaders to identify the top technical hurdles to overcome before space mining becomes a reality.