With the help of Planetary Society members, donors, and Honeybee Robotics, we brought to life a new citizen-funded sampling technology that will help us do science on other planets. It’s called PlanetVac.
PlanetVac Xodiac: Sampling Other Worlds Taking samples of other worlds is an important step towards discovery, but it is an expensive and complex process. Honeybee Robotics and The Planetary Society teamed up to solve this problem. This is PlanetVac.
How does it work?
Some of the biggest discoveries we make in planetary science rely on picking up pieces of other worlds. Soil sampled by the Curiosity rover showed us Mars had liquid water conducive to life for an extended period of time. Rocks brought back to Earth by Apollo astronauts taught us the Moon is almost 4.6 billion years old. And grains of dust captured by the Stardust spacecraft contained amino acids, confirming comets can carry the building blocks of life.
Despite the fact that we've been scooping samples of planetary bodies since the 1960s, sample collection is still hard—and expensive. Robot arms are heavy, complicated, and power hungry, and they don't work on low-gravity worlds.
That’s where PlanetVac—short for Planetary Vacuum—changes the game.
In practice it actually blows materials up tubes using compressed gas, which by the way, is usually available on landers already because it is used to pressurize the fuel tanks. The PlanetVac sampling devices would be built into the lander legs themselves. This technique can conceptually be used to feed surface dirt to science instruments and/or feed it into sample return rockets on landers on Mars, asteroids, or the Moon. Because of the low pressures on all those bodies, the technique is extremely efficient because the efficiency is related to the ratio of the pressure of the gas you are using to the ambient pressure.
In 2013, we helped fund a successful test of this next-generation system in the lab, and in May 2018, we took it out for a successful test flight on a rocket called Xodiac.
Xodiac, built by Masten Space Systems, takes off and lands vertically in California's Mojave Desert. This allows space hardware developers to test new equipment and make sure prototypes can survive the stresses of a rocket launch and landing—all without actually flying to space.
PlanetVac wouldn’t have happened without the generosity of our members and donors.