Recent experiments with a flextensional piezoelectric actuator have led to the development of a sampler with a bit that is designed to produce and capture a full set of sample forms including volatiles, powdered cuttings, and core fragments.

The flextensional piezoelectric actuator is a part of a series of devices used to amplify the generated strain from piezoelectric actuators. Other examples include stacks, bimorphs, benders, and cantilevers. These devices combine geometric and resonance amplifications to produce large stroke at high power density. The operation of this sampler/drill was demonstrated using a 3×2×1-cm actuator weighing 12 g using power of about 10-W and a preload of about 10 N. A limestone block was drilled to a depth of about 1 cm in five minutes to produce powdered cuttings.

The Miniature Drill, the bit, and the covering of both the actuator and bit using bellows are shown. The tube with bellows also is shown.
It is generally hard to collect volatiles from random surface profiles found in rocks and sediment, powdered cuttings, and core fragments. Toward the end of collecting volatiles, the actuator and the bit are covered with bellows-shaped shrouds to prevent fines and other debris from reaching the analyzer. A tube with a miniature bellows (to provide flexibility) is connected to the bit and directs the flow of the volatiles to the analyzer. Another modality was conceived where the hose is connected to the bellows wall directly to allow the capture of volatiles generated both inside and outside the bit. A wide variety of commercial bellows used in the vacuum and microwave industries can be used to design the volatiles’ capture mechanism.

The piezoelectric drilling mechanism can potentially be operated in a broad temperature range from about –200 to <450 °C. The actuators used here are similar to the actuators that are currently baselined to fly as part of the inlet funnel shaking mechanism design of MSL (Mars Science Laboratory). The space qualification of these parts gives this drill a higher potential for inclusion in a future mission, especially when considering its characteristics of low mass, small size, low power, and low axial loads for sampling.

Such a tiny penetrator can be integrated with instruments for life and water detection as well as materials characterization for planetary applications. It is also a useful tool for gaining subsurface access, an exploration goal that is an essential element of future missions. Terrestrially speaking, this tool has applications with regard to testing soil for toxic chemicals, the presence of moisture, and various other analytical tests.

This work was done by Stewart Sherrit, Mircea Badescu, and Yoseph Bar-Cohen of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Mechanics/Machinery category.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management
Mail Stop 202-233
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109-8099
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to NPO-45857, volume and number

of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Document cover
Miniature Low-Mass Drill Actuated by Flextensional Piezo Stack

(reference NPO-45857) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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