Plant & Equipment

Space drill tested at gypsum quarry

The Planetary Deep Drill is being developed by US company Honeybee Robotics to sample material and gather data from kilometres below the icy surface of Mars’s polar caps, as well as on Enceladus and Europa, Saturn and Jupiter’s respective moons.

Honeybee Robotics identified USG Corporation’s Plaster City quarry in California as an ideal site for the technology’s first field tests due to the fact that gypsum could provide drilling conditions similar to the cryogenic ice observed on the surface of Mars, the two moons and other planetary bodies.

When the company first began testing in November 2015, Kris Zacny, director of Honeybee Robotics’s exploration technology group, said, “After success in the laboratory, we are looking forward to proving the performance of the drill in an environment analogous to some of the most interesting planetary targets in our solar system.”

Honeybee Robotics planned to test the major functions of its Planetary Deep Drill by drilling to a depth of 30m at the quarry – significantly deeper than any other drill previously deployed to Mars had been able to reach. It was said that data gained from the field trials would also inform future improvements of the drill’s technology.

“This prototype drill is exciting and highly innovative, not only because of the depths it can reach, but because it will carry a scientific payload that will deliver large amounts of data to the surface,” Zacny stated.

Upon announcing the partnership with Honeybee Robotics, USG chief technology officer and senior vice president of operations Dominic Dannessa said, “We are honoured to be the only company in our industry to play a role in this innovative endeavour to advance planetary exploration and the broader field of science.

“We believe innovation comes from inspired thinking inside our company and outside of it, so sharing our geotechnical expertise with Honeybee was a natural fit.”

Field testing of the Planetary Deep Drill concluded in December.


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