Due to ultraviolet flux in the surface layers of most solar bodies, future astrobiological research is increasingly seeking to conduct subsurface penetration and drilling to detect chemical signature for extant or extinct life. To address this issue, we present a micro-penetrator concept (mass < 10 kg) that is suited for extraterrestrial planetary deployment and in situ investigation of chemical and physical properties. The instrumentation in this concept is a bio-inspired drill to access material beneath sterile surface layer for biomarker detection. The proposed drill represents a novel concept of two-valve-reciprocating motion, inspired by the working mechanism of wood wasp ovipositors. It is lightweight (0.5 kg), driven at low power (3 W), and able to drill deep (1-2 m). Tests have shown that the reciprocating drill is feasible and has potential of improving drill efficiency without using any external force. The overall penetration system provides a small, light and energy efficient solution to in situ astrobiological studies, which is crucial for space engineering. Such a micro-penetrator can be used for exploration of terrestrial-type planets or other small bodies of the solar system with the minimum of modifications.

, , ,
International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Gao, Y. (Yang), Ellery, A, Jaddou, M. (Mustafa), Vincent, J. (Julian), & Eckersley, S. (Steven). (2005). A novel penetration system for in situ astrobiological studies. In International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems (Vol. 2, pp. 281–286).