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Honeybee Robotics and The Planetary Society Partner to Develop and Test Planetary Deep Drill System

Lightweight, portable drill will be tested to reach 100 feet in Mars analog environment


Erin Greeson
Phone: +1-626-793-5100

With the support of The Planetary Society, Honeybee Robotics is developing and testing a new Planetary Deep Drill system, a lightweight, portable drill designed eventually to reach kilometers below the surface of icy bodies such as Europa, Enceladus, Titan, and the Mars polar caps. The Planetary Deep Drill, which could be deployed from a rover or lander, uses a unique approach to reach deep below the surface and gather samples for analysis or perform downhole in-situ science. Support from The Planetary Society members will help Honeybee Robotics test the drill in the spring of 2015 in rock similar to cryogenic ice found elsewhere in the Solar System.

Unlike the drills that have already been deployed to the Moon and Mars, the Planetary Deep Drill System is a wire-line drill, its depth limited by the length of a tether suspending it rather than the length of an individual drill pipe (as in oil and gas drilling). The four-meter Planetary Deep Drill contains all of the motors, electronics and sensors required to operate the drill, and it uses a highly efficient rotary percussive drilling technology, which helps to conserve valuable energy. 

“The robotic ability to drill even meters, much less hundreds of meters or kilometers, into planetary ices would be a revolutionary step in planetary exploration,” said Bruce Betts, director of science and technology at The Planetary Society.  “We could look back in time by drilling the layers of the Martian polar caps, or learn more about the possible subsurface oceans on Europa and Enceladus,” Betts added.

“Though Honeybee Robotics has developed dozens of planetary drilling and sampling systems over the past two decades, we’re especially excited about the Planetary Deep Drill,” said Kris Zacny, director of the exploration technology group, Honeybee Robotics. “There’s nothing quite like it: a drill that can launch from a relatively small platform and yet gather samples from kilometers deep. We are thankful to the support of The Planetary Society, NASA, and all our partners who have helped make its development possible.”

In early 2015, support from The Planetary Society and other partners will enable Honeybee Robotics to test the Planetary Deep Drill in a gypsum mine in the Salton Sea, California, a formation of rock with similar strength to cryogenic ice. Results from this test will help refine the design for future missions, and help developers better understand how to integrate in-drill sensors to enable “sensing-while-drilling.” The Planetary Deep Drill is equipped with humidity and temperature sensors, as well as a microscope capable of imaging particles as small as 0.5 microns in both white and ultraviolet lights.

Previously, The Planetary Society and Honeybee Robotics partnered to develop a new planetary regolith sampling system, PlanetVac, designed to be a low-cost and reliable sample acquisition platform for use on Mars, the Moon, or asteroids.

Honeybee Robotics has over two decades of experience developing a range of effective planetary sampling and processing systems, and has contributed systems to the Mars Exploration Rovers, Phoenix Mars Lander, and Mars Science Laboratory. The Planetary Deep Drill is based on Honeybee’s Auto Gopher wire-line drill, which gathered core samples from 3 meters deep during a 2012 field test. More information about the company’s planetary exploration programs is available at 

For an in-depth Planetary Deep Drill story, visit The Planetary Society's project page.

About Honeybee Robotics

Honeybee Robotics develops advanced robotic and electromechanical systems that operate in challenging environments in space and on Earth. The company serves as a research and development partner to help solve its customers’ unmet needs with robotic systems that extend and enhance capabilities in extreme and unstructured environments. Since 1983, Honeybee Robotics has completed more than 300 advanced projects for NASA, the US Department of Defense, academia, and industry. Based in New York, the company maintains satellite offices in Longmont, CO and Pasadena, CA. For more, go to

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