Honeybee Robotics Selected for 2 NASA SBIR Awards

honeybee_roboticsNASA has selected Honeybee Robotics of New York City for two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards for work on a system to return a surface sample from a comet and a drill that can be used to extract soil samples from a variety of heavenly bodies.

“The proposed Phase I investigation will focus on the development of spacecraft systems required to obtain a sample from the nucleus of a comet, hermetically seal the sample within a capsule, and return the sealed sample to an orbiting spacecraft which can return the sample to Earth,” according to the comet proposal’s summary.

The second project focuses on the development of a nano-drill for use in extracting samples from the moon, Mars, comets and asteroids.

“We propose to design, build and test a 1 kg, single actuator, sample acquisition drill. The drill uses a novel method of core or powder acquisition. The core acquisition bit can be used for either a rock core, icy-soil or loose regolith acquisition,” according to the proposal summary.

The proposal summaries are reproduced below.

PROPOSAL SUMMARY
Award: SBIR Phase I
Maximum Value: $125,000

PROPOSAL TITLE: A Comet Surface Sample Return System

SUBTOPIC TITLE: In Situ Sensors and Sensor Systems for Lunar and Planetary Science

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN

Honeybee Robotics Ltd.
New York, NY

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

The proposed Phase I investigation will focus on the development of spacecraft systems required to obtain a sample from the nucleus of a comet, hermetically seal the sample within a capsule, and return the sealed sample to an orbiting spacecraft which can return the sample to Earth. A preliminary systems level concept has been developed. This concept will be refined during the proposed Phase I investigation, including proof-of-concept breadboards and analyses of critical subsystems.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

The acquisition of surface samples from small interplanetary bodies such as comets and asteroids, as well as small moons like Mars’ Phobos, and Deimos holds great scientific interest. Under the NASA Authorization Act, Congress instructed NASA to “plan, develop, and implement a Near-Earth Object (NEO) Survey program to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize the physical characteristics of NEOs equal to or greater than 140 meters in diameter in order to assess the threat of such near-Earth objects to the Earth.” In 2010, President Obama called for a new approach to space exploration, which would include human and robotic exploration of asteroids. In the latest Decadal Survey, the committee recommended selecting a Comet Surface Sample Return mission as one of the five New Frontiers 4 (NF4) missions, solidifying the importance of studying returned physical samples from a comet. The other four included Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return, Saturn Probe, Trojan Tour and Rendezvous, and Venus In Situ Explorer. The Lunar and Venus missions could also benefit from the development of this sampling approach.

The sampling probe in the proposed effort could be applied to any number of planetary bodies with a microgravity environment where sample return is desired.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Non-NASA applications for this technology include sampling of contaminated soils and liquid from hazardous environments (near nuclear reactors, oil spills, chemical spills etc). Key subsystems such as the sampling probe, flipper mechanism and hermetic sealing canister could be re-purposed for sampling terrestrial sites. These systems could potentially be deployed from a helicopter with a tether, acquire a sample, hermetically seal it on the ground, and be reeled in with the sample inside the sealed canister. This would reduce the risk of sending personnel into contaminated environments.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Machines/Mechanical Subsystems
  • Pressure & Vacuum Systems
  • Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)

PROPOSAL SUMMARY
Award: SBIR Phase I
Maximum Value: $125,000

PROPOSAL TITLE: NanoDrill: 1 Actuator Core Acquisition System

SUBTOPIC TITLE: Human-Robotic Systems – Manipulation Subsystem

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN
Honeybee Robotics Ltd.
New York, NY

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER
Kris Zacny

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT

We propose to design, build and test a 1 kg, single actuator, sample acquisition drill. The drill uses a novel method of core or powder acquisition. The core acquisition bit can be used for either a rock core, icy-soil or loose regolith acquisition. The continued development of robust sample acquisition and handling tools is of critical importance to future robotic and human missions to Mars, the Moon, Asteroids, and other planetary bodies. For these missions, consolidated or unconsolidated core samples (as opposed to, say, scooped regolith or collected drill cuttings) are of particular interest.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Future robotic astrobiology and geology missions such as Mars Sample Return, Venus In Situ Explorer, Comet Sample Return, South Pole Aitken Basin Sample Return missions will benefit greatly from the ability to produce and capture rock and regolith cores, using a compact, low mass, low power device, and hermetically seal the samples in dedicated containers.

A system utilizing a surface drill and a suite of bits for different applications could be deployed during lunar and asteroid sortie missions by astronauts (i.e., hand held coring drill) since it is more manageable to bring small cores back as opposed to large rocks.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS

Scientists often use small drills to acquire core samples for the study of everything from geological classification to ocean drilling and surveying. Traditionally, petroleum engineers will use large cores to extract information about boundaries between sandstone, limestone, and shale. This process is time consuming so smaller cores are sometimes taken. This method of sampling is called sidewall coring and provides more information to the petroleum engineer than simply logged data. Scientists studying earthquake mechanics could also benefit in a similar fashion. Automation of this process would save time and money; enabling the science goals of the research with reduced schedule and budget risk/impact. The arm-deployed coring tool also has applications in the study of terrestrial biology, such as coring into rocks in the Arctic and Antarctic, among other desirable locations.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING

  • Machines/Mechanical Subsystems
  • Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)