2010

System for Packaging Planetary Samples for Return to Earth

System completes all the necessary steps for proper preservation.

A system is proposed for packaging material samples on a remote planet (especially Mars) in sealed sample tubes in preparation for later return to Earth. The sample tubes (Figure 1) would comprise (1) tubes initially having open tops and closed bottoms; (2) small, bellowslike collapsible bodies inside the tubes at their bottoms; and (3) plugs to be eventually used to close the tops of the tubes. The top inner surface of each tube would be coated with solder. The side of each plug, which would fit snugly into a tube, would feature a solder-filled ring groove. The system would include equipment for storing, manipulating, filling, and sealing the tubes.

Sample Tube is shown with collapsible bottom (on the right), sample, and sealed plug." class="caption" align="left">The containerization system (see Figure 2) will be organized in stations and will include: the storage station, the loading station, and the heating station. These stations can be structured in circular or linear pattern to minimize the manipulator complexity, allowing for compact design and mass efficiency. The manipulation of the sample tube between stations is done by a simple manipulator arm. The storage station contains the unloaded sample tubes and the plugs before sealing as well as the sealed sample tubes with samples after loading and sealing. The chambers at the storage station also allow for plug insertion into the sample tube. At the loading station the sample is poured or inserted into the sample tube and then the tube is topped off. At the heating station the plug is heated so the solder ring melts and seals the plug to the sample tube.

Containerization System includes loading, heating/sealing, and storage stations." class="caption" align="left">The process is performed as follows: Each tube is filled or slightly overfilled with sample material and the excess sample material is wiped off the top. Then, the plug is inserted into the top section of the tube packing the sample material against the collapsible bellowslike body allowing the accommodation of the sample volume. The plug and the top of the tube are heated momentarily to melt the solder in order to seal the tube.

This work was done by Mircea Badescu, Yoseph Bar-Cohen, Paul G. Backes, Stewart Sherrit, Xiaoqi Bao, and James S. Scott of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Mechanics/Machinery category. NPO-46089

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