Honeybee Robotics’ PlanetVac has successfully completed a real-world sample return test aboard a Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac rocket. The test was conducted on May 24 with the PlanetVac system collecting and retaining 320 grams of topsoil at the test location in Mojave, California.
A test of the Xodiac rocket in April 2017 | Video credit: NASA
“Bringing something back from another planet, celestial body, is the Holy Grail of planetary science,” said senior project engineer for Honeybee Robotics, Justin Spring. “It allows you to have something from another world, here, so Earth instruments can analyze it. We’re still analyzing what we collected from the moon years ago!”
The PlanetVac system is incredibly simple operating in much the same fashion as a commercial vacuum cleaner. The system replaces one of the footpads of a planetary lander. Once on the surface of a distant planet or celestial body, the system would create an area of high pressure on the surface and an area of low pressure in a sample return box. Surface soil is then pulled from the surface to the box where it can be secured for the journey back.
“There are other ways to collect samples,” said Spring. “The Mars Curiosity rover uses a drill. The Mars Phoenix lander had a scoop. But to keep it simple when all you need is surface dirt then using this pneumatic system can bring the sample back.”
The PlanetVac is still in an early phase of testing and is not currently earmarked for any future missions.
Featured image credit: NASA / Lauren Hughes