Honeybee Robotics receives two SBIR awards for sample return from space

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Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation has secured two SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Phase I Awards for the development of two sample collection and return systems. Sample return systems are of significant interest to NASA for upcoming missions to comets and asteroids, as well as concepts for a Mars 2020 mission that may include acquisition and return of rock cores.

The first project funds the design, build and validation of the NanoDrill, a 1 kg, single actuator sample acquisition drill designed to provide a lightweight, reliable, low power solution to planetary exploration missions. The drill uses a novel method of core and powder acquisition with two interchangeable drill bits. The core acquisition bit can sample a range of targets including rock cores, icy soil or ice; the powder acquisition bit is used for acquiring drill cuttings or loose regolith. Acquiring core samples is of critical importance to future robotic and human missions to Mars, the moon, asteroids, and other planetary bodies because it provides a rich source of data on geology, history and habitability of extraterrestrial environments.

The second project focuses on developing a sample acquisition, caching and return system for a mission to a comet or an asteroid. The concept includes a sampling probe that detaches from a parent spacecraft and propels itself towards the surface of a small body. Upon impact, the probe collects a sample from the near surface and transports it into an upper stage Comet (or Asteroid) Ascent Vehicle, where it is hermetically sealed and transferred via the parent spacecraft to an Earth Return Vehicle. Materials collected by this system would contain records of the early development of the solar system, informing the understanding of the history and formation of the planets.

“Collecting and caching samples from space, one of Honeybee’s core strengths, is of growing interest to NASA because it offers insight into the history of the solar system and potentially life-sustaining environments beyond Earth,” said Kris Zacny, Vice President & Director, Exploration Technology at Honeybee Robotics. “For over a decade, Honeybee has been solving the challenges of reliable and effective sample collection systems within tight mass and volume requirements, ranging from sampling on the surface down to dozens of meters deep. We’re excited about these two new projects, which are designed to yield a rich source of data from a small platform.”