Robotic Mobility, Manipulation, and Sampling
The NASA Planetary Science Decadal Survey for the 2023-2032 decade identifies missions to solar system bodies, including to comets, asteroids, Ceres, Enceladus, Titan, Venus, Mars, and Earth's Moon, which require new mobility, manipulation, and sampling technologies. Mobility systems will provide access to more challenging and scientifically important terrains, sampling systems will acquire samples for scientific analysis, and manipulation will provide deployment of the sampling systems and handling of the samples. Small businesses can provide some of the necessary technologies.
Technologies for robotic mobility, manipulation, and sampling are needed to enable access to sites of interest as well as acquisition and handling of samples for in situ analysis or return to Earth from planets and other planetary bodies including Mars, Venus, Ceres, Enceladus, Europa, Titan, comets, asteroids, and Earth's Moon.
Mobility technologies are needed to enable access to steep, subsurface, and rough terrain for planetary bodies where gravity dominates, such as Earth’s Moon and Mars. Wheeled, legged, and aerial solutions are of interest. Technologies to enable mobility on small bodies and access to subsurface oceans (e.g., via conduits or drilling) are desired, as are the associated sampling technologies.
Manipulation technologies are needed to deploy sampling tools to the surface, transfer samples to in situ instruments and sample storage containers, and hermetically seal sample chambers. Sample acquisition tools are needed to acquire samples on planetary and small bodies through soft and hard materials, including ice. Minimization of mass and the ability to work reliably in a harsh mission environment are important characteristics for the tools. Design for planetary protection and contamination control is important for sample acquisition and handling systems.
Component technologies for low-mass and low-power systems tolerant to the in situ environment (e.g., temperature, radiation, dust) are of particular interest. Proposals should show an understanding of relevant science needs and engineering constraints and present a feasible plan (to include a discussion of challenges and appropriate testing) to fully develop a technology and infuse it into a NASA program. Specific areas of interest include the following:
- Subsurface ocean access such as via a deep-drill system.
- Surface, near-subsurface, and 2- to 10-m-depth sampling systems for planets, small bodies, and moons.
- Sample handling technologies that minimize cross contamination and preserve mechanical integrity of samples.
- Cryogenic operation actuators.
- Surface mobility systems for planets, small bodies, and moons.
- Pneumatic sample-transfer systems and particle flow measurement sensors.
- Low-mass/power vision systems and processing capabilities that enable sampling and fast surface traverse.
- Tethers and tether play-out and retrieval system.
- Miniaturized flight motor controllers.
- Robotic arms for low-gravity environments.
Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 2 to 4
Primary Technology Taxonomy:
- Level 1 04 Robotics Systems
- Level 2 04.3 Manipulation
Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:
Desired Deliverables Description:
Hardware, software, and designs for component robotic systems:
- Phase I: proof of concept to include research and analysis, along with design, in a final report. Technical feasibility and value should be demonstrated.
- Phase II: prototype with test results. A full capability unit of at least TRL 4 should be delivered.
State of the Art and Critical Gaps:
Scoops, powder drills, and rock core drills and their corresponding handling systems have been developed for sample acquisition on missions to Mars and asteroids. Nonflight systems have been developed for sampling on comets, Venus, Enceladus, Titan, and Earth's Moon. Some of these environments still present risk and have gaps that need to be addressed. Ocean worlds exploration presents new environments and unique challenges not met by existing mobility and sampling systems. New mobility, manipulation, and sampling technologies are needed to enable new types of missions and missions to different and challenging environments. Very lightweight, compact, low power avionics components are needed for surface mobility systems of all kinds and for aerial mobility systems on bodies with atmospheres, including inertial measurement units (IMUs), processors, radios, and altimeters. High-power batteries with good specific energy are needed for aerial mobility systems.
Relevance / Science Traceability:
This subtopic supports multiple programs within the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). The Mars program has had infusion of technologies such as a force-torque sensor in the Mars 2020 mission. Recent awards would support the Ocean Worlds program with surface and deep drills. Sample-return missions could be supported such as from Ceres, comets, and asteroids. Products from this subtopic have been proposed for New Frontiers program missions. With renewed interest in return to Earth's Moon, the mobility and sampling technologies could support future robotic missions to the Moon. The NASA Decadal Survey for the 2023-2032 decade identifies various future missions that require these technologies including missions to Ceres, comets, asteroids, Enceladus, Venus, Mars, and Earth's Moon.
- Mars Exploration—Program and Missions: https://mars.nasa.gov/programmissions/
- Solar System Exploration: https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/
- Ocean Worlds: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/ocean-worlds/
- Ocean Worlds article: https://science.nasa.gov/news-articles/ocean-worlds