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Drilling Into The Future

File photo: Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, demonstrate a novel device called an ultrasonic driller/corer, shown operating from a small rover. The drill is very compact and power-efficient -- factors that will be useful when it is used in future space missions to drill and core for samples on planets and asteroids. It can be transported on lightweight landers with robotic arms and rovers that can roam over a variety of terrains. Pictured, from left, are Dr. Stewart Sherrit, Caltech postdoctoral scholar; Dr. Yoseph Bar-Cohen, who leads JPL's Nondestructive Evaluation and Advanced Actuator Technologies unit; and Dr. Benjamin Dolgin, task manager for robotic drilling.
Pasadena - Sept. 6, 2001
Imagine a drill that penetrates granite using only the power of a flashlight battery. Then imagine sending that energy-efficient drill to another planet to explore beneath the surface. Or, perhaps, visualize putting the lightweight, sensitive instrument to work on Earth to improve medical care. Such a drill, recently developed at JPL and Cybersonics, Inc., has that power and potential.

The Ultrasonic/sonic driller/corer demonstration unit weighs roughly .7 kilograms (1.5 pounds) and is able to drill 12-millimeter (half-inch) holes into hard rocks.

Attached to the robotic arm of a future lander or on board a small rover, the drill could extract samples from the surface of an asteroid or planet surface during space missions. On Earth, potential medical uses include extracting pacemaker leads, assisting surgeries or facilitating diagnostic procedures that involve drilling into bone.

The drill relies on a novel mechanism that produces high frequency vibrations and converts them to a hammering action at low frequency. The high frequency vibrations are generated by a stack of piezoelectric wafers, which can be powered by a battery.

The drill consists of only three moving parts and it does not require gears, motors or lubricants. The drill requires very little pressure and it operates efficiently, drilling both soft and very hard rock, and it does not need sharpening. It extracts the produced debris by transporting them up the drilling shaft. The instrument is ideal for the exploration of other planets in space since it can operate in a wide range of temperatures as well as a vacuum.

A more advanced drill model, called the ultrasonic gofer, is currently being developed to reach depths of several meters, or yards. This deep drill will be equipped with sensors that will make it even more effective for detecting samples.

These sensors will also analyze samples in-situ, meaning in its location on a planet. Such a device could also be used on Earth to detect buried objects and for geophysical studies.

Related Links
JPL's NDEAA Ultrasonic Drilling Homepage
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Drilling for Martians
London - Jan. 10, 2001
Engineers have developed a new tool to help them hunt for signs of life on Mars. Their metre-long, white-hot spear can melt its way through soil and rocks to depths where evidence of past life may be lurking.

Digging For Life On Mars
Pasadena - Sept 13, 2000
Find liquid water on Mars, and life may not be far behind. Many scientists believe that this water can only exist thousands of metres beneath the planet's surface. So a team of engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is developing a robotic mole that can drill deep into Mars and return samples to the surface through a tube that it constructs as it digs.

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