The Ultrasonic Planetary Core Drill project seeks to build a device that can take a sample of rocky, sandy or frozen material from depths of 30cm underground, place it inside a capsule, and then seal it closed. In late 2016 we will be going to one of the most Mars-like places on Earth, Antarctica, to test how the device might work in space.
This programme will develop and test some of the technology that future sample return missions might need as we seek to learn more about the history of our universe. We have found that drilling is quite difficult in low gravity because it is very hard to develop the weight-on-bit we take for granted on Earth, and sealing the sample container is essential because we will need to make sure that any volatiles (such as water ice) are retained until the sample is safely inside a secure laboratory. We are therefore investigating how low-force drilling concepts, such as ultrasonic percussion, could be used to gain access to the near-to-mid subsurface of the Moon, Mars or elsewhere.
The research leading to our results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)