An ultrasonic rock-abrasion tool (URAT) was developed using the same principle of ultrasonic/sonic actuation as that of the tools described in two prior NASA Tech Briefs articles: “Ultrasonic/Sonic Drill/Corers With Integrated Sensors (NPO-20856), Vol. 25, No. 1 (January 2001), page 38 and “Ultrasonic/Sonic Mechanisms for Drilling and Coring” (NPO-30291), Vol. 27, No. 9 (September 2003), page 65. Hence, like those tools, the URAT offers the same advantages of low power demand, mechanical simplicity, compactness, and ability to function with very small axial loading (very small contact force between tool and rock).

This Prototype URAT is one of several that have been constructed thus far. It has a total mass of 0.4kg, a length of 5.65 in. (14.4 cm), and a maximum diameter of 2.5 in. (6.35 cm). The textured disk at the right end is the tool bit.

Like a tool described in the second of the cited previous articles, a URAT includes (1) a drive mechanism that comprises a piezoelectric ultrasonic actuator, an amplification horn, and a mass that is free to move axially over a limited range and (2) an abrasion tool bit. A URAT tool bit is a disk that has been machined or otherwise formed to have a large number of teeth and an overall shape chosen to impart the desired shape (which could be flat or curved) to the rock surface to be abraded. In operation, the disk and thus the teeth are vibrated in contact with the rock surface. The concentrated stresses at the tips of the impinging teeth repeatedly induce microfractures and thereby abrade the rock. The motion of the tool induces an ultrasonic transport effect that displaces the cuttings from the abraded area.

The figure shows a prototype URAT. A piezoelectric-stack/ horn actuator is housed in a cylindrical container. The movement of the actuator and bit with respect to the housing is aided by use of mechanical sliders. A set of springs accommodates the motion of the actuator and bit into or out of the housing through an axial range between 5 and 7 mm. The springs impose an approximately constant force of contact between the tool bit and the rock to be abraded. A dust shield surrounds the bit, serving as a barrier to reduce the migration of rock debris to sensitive instrumentation or mechanisms in the vicinity. A bushing at the tool-bit end of the housing reduces the flow of dust into the actuator and retains the bit when no axial load is applied.

This work was done by Benjamin Dolgin, Stewart Sherrit, Yoseph Bar-Cohen, Richard Rainen, Steve Askin, Donald Bickler, Donald Lewis, John Carson, Stephen Dawson, Xiaoqi Bao, and Zensheu Chang of Caltech and Thomas Peterson of Cybersonics for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Machinery/Automation category. NPO-30403

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Document cover
Ultrasonically Actuated Tools for Abrading Rock Surfaces

(reference NPO-30403) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

Don't have an account? Sign up here.