Monday, September 25, 2023

The revolutionary robots NASA is using to find out if there is organic life on Mars

The goal of establishing permanent colonies far from Earth requires better and better knowledge of the places where people will live in the medium and long term. The most immediate example is the moon and the various programs used to study the South Pole and analyze the ice present there. But also on Mars, where NASA has deployed the Perseverance rover and hopes to deploy a much more advanced type of robot in the future, Analyze the possible remnants of biological life on Mars.

Come on Borebotsan, an English pun for mixing drill and robot, is a new tool concept focused exclusively on taking deep probes. Current rovers already have a similar capability for much more limited and superficial soil analysis that is not useful for accessing sites of scientific interest.

The latest research suggests that is the case for subglacial liquid water on Mars at a depth of 1.5 kilometers at the south pole of the planet. “If we’re going to do astrobiology, we don’t just have to see it; we have to take a sample of it,” said Chris McKay, a scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center, in 2018. It is not an easy task given the launch weight limitations of spacecraft and the complexity of the operation in such an uncomfortable place as the surface of Mars.

The South Pole of the Red Planet has become one of the areas with the greatest potential for studying possible forms of life on Mars. “The chances that this formation and the subglacial lake could host life are greatly increased if the liquid phase is possible due to heat generated by volcanic activity below the crust,” said Quinn Morley, principal investigator at Planet Enterprises, in a joint press release with NASA. Morley also acknowledges that “there is currently no drilling system that can do the job.”

Rover with drill

Planet Enterprises’ proposal is “an autonomous drilling system. A rover of the “Perseverance” type would serve as the functional platform. As they explain, the rover would be equipped with minimal but adequate scientific instruments for the task and a drilling scheme unrelated to the traditional ones. Borebotsone, which is a meter long, can autonomously move the fountain up and down without the need for a cable to pull.

These drilling robots are deployed from a tube installed on board the rover, and drilling begins when the first unit rubs the surface. Then advance 150 millimeters and return to the surface using a caterpillar system—like those found in tanks—to extract the sample from the core. The ice is then separated from the core holder and placed on board the rover using a robotic arm. And start over.

One of the most important novelties of the Borebots designed by Planet Enterprises is Each of the segments is equipped with everything necessary for drilling: batteries, drills, motors, and electronics. Once the battery runs out, the drill will pop out on its own using the aforementioned caterpillar and sit in a compartment to charge the batteries. In theory, this is a very fast process that allows for almost continuous drilling.

The engineers responsible for this development have also addressed some issues that need to be solved. The immediate question is: What happens when the battery of a drill is empty? Drilling, for which they want to develop a power transmission system from one robot to another.

There is also the possibility of creating branches within the same poll, a very common maneuver that arises from the need to analyze areas around the original borehole. By doing so, they would simultaneously avoid the possibility of harming other borebots, which were continued for the first perforation.

The test mission proposed by Planet Enterprises envisages drilling between 20 and 50 meters deep into the area of ​​interest with a nuclear-powered Perseverance rover. According to Morley, “If this depth is reached within a 90-day mission, an expanded mission could target the 1.5 km target.” A level at which liquid water was already in abundance.

“The complexity of the system doesn’t increase the deeper you go, and the use of consumables scales linearly,” he says. “The expanded mission (to drill 1.5 km) could last about four years and collect thousands of samples”. These would first be analyzed by the rover, and then the data would be sent back to Earth. The project is currently at an undefined point and appears to have received no further funding from NASA until 2021, although the undertaking has been successful. Winner of multiple awards, which strengthened his proposal.

lunar south pole

As it happens on Mars territory, The south pole of the moon has become a research object indispensable for scientists. The last to bring their instruments were the Russians and Indians. The first was with the Luna-25 spacecraft, and the second was with the Chandrayaan-3 mission.

For Roscosmos, the Moscow-based space agency, it is the first trip to a natural satellite of this era after nearly four decades of lunar scarcity. The lunar lander they sent is scheduled to touch the surface on Aug. 21 and has numerous instruments installed inside to analyze the regolith.

On the other hand, if India manages to get its ship to a safe port, it will be the fourth country to successfully carry out a similar mission. That will put it behind Russia, the United States, and China. If all goes according to plan, the probe will land on August 23.

World Nation News Desk
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