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Proposal Awarded for Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies

The Planetary Science and Technology through Analog Research (PSTAR) program’s Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies (ARADS) is a new Mars rover analog mission scheduled for 2015-19, structured as a field test of an integrated rover drill system with prototype instruments that are Mars flight mission candidates. The depth and sample volume requirements for scientific sample acquisition require a drill capable of penetrating depths of a meter or greater.

Observing the operation of the rover drilling system in a high-fidelity environment will illuminate the difficult issues of low-gravity drilling into an unknown substrate, drill site sensing and selection, and drill system emplacement and stabilization. ARADS will be led by Brian Glass from Ames (PI) and will conduct field science and tests of an integrated Honeybee drill and the Intelligent Robotics Group K-REX rover at sites in Chile’s Atacama Desert in unprepared “regolith.” Instruments will be contributed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Mars Organic Analyzer, Wet Chemistry Laboratory), Goddard Space Flight Center (Laser Desorption Mass Spectrometer), and Spain (Signs of Life Detector). Field science will be supported by ARC, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Antofagasta, Chile. ARADS will also support new technology development at ARC in automation, robotics, and sample acquisition.

BACKGROUND: Chile’s Atacama Desert is one of the most important Mars analog environments on Earth due to its extreme aridity. Geological and soil mineralogical evidence suggest that extreme arid conditions have persisted for at least 10–15 million years. One important similarity between soils in the Atacama Desert and soils on Mars is the natural accumulation of perchlorates. Automated drilling and sampling, rover development, and mission operations technologies are all areas of Code TI strength that contributed to the awarding of the proposal, together with a strong, integrated, multi-institution team. Work is expected to begin May 1 with an initial field season to Chile late in this calendar year.


CO-Is/COLLABORATORS: Will Brinckerhoff (GSFC), Luis Caceres (Univ. Antofagasta, Chile), Jocelyne DiRuggiero (Johns Hopkins), Victor Parro (CAB, Spain), Gale Paulsen (Honeybee), and Peter Willis (JPL); Alfonso Davila, Terry Fong, Chris McKay, Richard Quinn, and Carol Stoker (all from ARC)

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Roughly $1M per year for four years, plus full-time employees. The sponsoring program is the Planetary Science and Technology through Analog Research (PSTAR) program, Planetary Division, Science Mission Directorate (SMD)

Contact: Brian Glass

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