Honeybee Robotics Tools Reach Milestone of 300 Excavations on Mars

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Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation today announced that its tools on the last three generations of NASA’s Mars landers have reached a milestone, collectively completing 300 excavations of Martian dirt and rocks. This marks an important milestone for the physical exploration of the Martian landscape in the search for a habitable environment and in preparation for future human missions. In total, Honeybee’s four contact science tools have moved approximately 450 cc’s of material.

Over the last decade, Honeybee Robotics tools have accomplished a series of firsts for contact science and exploration on Mars. The Rock Abrasion Tools aboard the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity were the first tools ever to access the interior of rocks on Mars, starting in 2004. On the 2007 Phoenix Mars Lander, Honeybee’s Icy Soil Acquisition Device (aka the “Phoenix Scoop”) was the first tool to interact with the vast deposits of water ice in the Martian polar regions. Earlier this year, the Dust Removal Tool on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity completed its first dusting of a Martian rock in Gale Crater, once the site of a former lakebed or river.

“Over the last 20 years, Honeybee has developed and demonstrated a truly unique expertise in planetary sampling tools,” said co-founder and chairman Stephen Gorevan, who serves as an investigator on the science teams for the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) SAM suite of instruments. “It is thrilling to see three generations of our Mars systems exploring the planet and contributing so much to humanity’s understanding of the Martian environment. We are grateful and proud to contribute to NASA’s science and exploration missions.”

Today, Opportunity remains active during its tenth year on Mars. The Rock Abrasion Tool on Opportunity continues its record-setting run as the most productive drill in the history of Mars exploration, recently completing its 47th grind in July 2013, when it uncovered the strongest signs for a history of potable water it has ever discovered. Mission lead scientist Steve Squyres called Opportunity’s recent exploration of the rock formations “one of the most technically challenging and one of the most scientifically rewarding targets of our whole mission.”

Honeybee is also developing drills and sample acquisition architectures for the Mars 2020 mission, which is intended to investigate the environment on Mars in the context of its habitability and potential for preservation of biosignatures within accessible geologic materials. Mars 2020 would be the first step for a Mars Sample Return mission, a long-sought objective to better understand the history and habitability of Mars by bringing cached rock samples back to Earth for analysis. One concept for the mission architecture can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NphWPvi9cy4.