Tech Briefs

Device Acquires and Retains Rock or Ice Samples

The Rock Baller is a sample acquisition tool that improves sample retention. The basic elements of the Rock Baller are the tool rotation axis, the hub, the two jaws, and the cutting blades, which are located on each of the jaws. The entire device rotates about the tool rotation axis, which is aligned parallel to the nominal normal direction of the parent rock surface. Both jaws also rotate about the jaw axis, which is perpendicular to the tool rotation axis, at a rate much slower than the rotation about the tool rotation axis. This movement gradually closes the jaws into a nearly continuous hemispherical shell that encloses the sample as it is cut from the parent rock. When required the jaws are opened to release the sample. The hemispherical cutting method eliminates the sample retention problems associated with existing sample acquisition methods that employ conventional cylindrical cutting.

The resulting samples are hemispherical, or nearly hemispherical, and as a result the aspect ratio (sample depth relative to sample radius) is essentially fixed. This fixed sample aspect ratio may be considered a drawback of the Rock Baller method, as samples with a higher aspect ratio (more depth, less width) may be considered more scientifically valuable because such samples would allow for a broader inspection of the geological record. This aspect ratio issue can be ameliorated if the Rock Baller is paired with a device similar to the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) used on the Mars Exploration Rovers. The RAT could be used to first grind into the surface of the parent rock, after which the Rock Baller would extract a sample from a depth inside the rock that would not have been possible without first using the RAT.

Other potential applications for this technology include medical applications such as the removal of tissue samples or tumors from the body, particularly during endoscopic, laparoscopic, or thoracoscopic surgeries.

This work was done by Louis R. Giersch and Paul G. Backes of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-46293

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