Aerospace

Exomars Drill Mechanisms

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Exomars drill
Exomars drill
Exomars drill
  • Client: Leonardo / TAS-I / ESA
  • Start date: 2007
  • Ending date: 2017
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Discovering whether there ever was or still is life on Mars is one of the most important scientific questions of our time. It is also a necessary prerequisite in order to prepare for future human exploration missions.

To achieve this important goal, ESA, in collaboration with Roscosmos, including a contribution of scientific instruments from NASA, has launched the ExoMars mission. The ExoMars mission will search for traces of past and present life, determine the geochemistry and water distribution of Mars, improve our knowledge of the environment and the geophysics of Mars and identify potential surface hazards for future human exploration missions.

The scope of the project for SENER includes design, manufacture, assembly and testing three drill mechanisms, which will be used to obtain the first samples of the Martian subsurface two metres deep. This is to be loaded onto the rover for the 2020 ExoMars mission. The mechanisms developed by SENER are:

  • Extension Rods, which maintain the compactness of the equipment, achieving the desired depth when drilling into Mars
  • The Drill Translation Group, which drives the drilling carriage feed while taking samples
  • The Positioner Translation Group, which places the drill in its operational position and then moves it in order to bring samples to the analytical equipment.

The main technological challenges of the mission are to do with the fact that this is the first time samples will be obtained from below the surface of Mars at a depth of up to two metres. That means, on the one hand, there may be some extreme operating conditions with dust storms and temperatures of up to 120 degrees below zero and, secondly, there is a need to ensure that the equipment is free of bacterial spores or any other trace of terrestrial life which could contaminate the Martian environment and/or distort the scientific objectives of the project.

For these conditions, it has been necessary to design, develop and validate equipment compatible with the structural and functional requirements, with extreme temperatures and with the requirements of biological cleaning, using materials and components compatible with sterilisation processes established by the client, and carrying out the assembly and testing processes in biological cleaning conditions.

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