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Sampling

Fig. 1: Artist's concept of the Phoenix lander.
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Fig. 1: Artist's concept of the Phoenix lander.
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Robotic sample-acquisition technology is being developed for several NASA missions: Phoenix Mars polar lander, Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, and future proposed Mars Sample Return mission (MSR).

The Phoenix lander is scheduled to touch down in the icy northern polar region of Mars on May 25, 2008. Robotics technology is being developed and integrated into the lander system to enable it to dig trenches up to a half-meter deep in layers of frozen soil, scoop samples and transfer them to lander-mounted instruments. Technical challenges arise from the need for autonomous digging in unknown soil with limited sensory information. Automated obstacle detection and recovery actions are integrated with the digging algorithms.

The MSL rover is scheduled to land on Mars in October, 2011. A robotic manipulating arm will carry science instruments, a sample-acquisition scoop, and a coring tool. Robotics technology is being developed to enable the manipulator to acquire samples and distribute them to various science instruments mounted on the rover body. Large interaction forces between the coring tool and rock cause technical challenges in the robotic coring operation.

Fig. 2: Artist's concept of the MSL rover.
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Fig. 2: Artist's concept of the MSL rover.
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The MSR mission is intended to acquire rock and soil samples on Mars and return them to Earth. Robotics technologies are being developed to acquire core samples with a low-mass rover and then transfer the sample container to a Mars Ascent Vehicle for transport back to Earth.

Fig. 3: Laboratory manipulator for MSL mission robotic coring development (left) and core sample (right).
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Fig. 3: Laboratory manipulator for MSL mission robotic coring development (left) and core sample (right).
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