The Mars Sample Return mission has the goal to drill, break off, and retain rock core samples. After some results gained from rock core mechanics testing, the realization that scoring teeth would cleanly break off the core after only a few millimeters of penetration, and noting that rocks are weak in tension, the idea was developed to use symmetric wedging teeth in compression to weaken and then break the core at the contact plane. This concept was developed as a response to the break-off and retention requirements.

The wedges wrap around the estimated average diameter of the core to get as many contact locations as possible, and are then pushed inward, radially, through the core towards one another. This starts a crack and begins to apply opposing forces inside the core to propagate the crack across the plane of contact.

The advantage is in the simplicity. Only two teeth are needed to break five varieties of Mars-like rock cores with limited penetration and reasonable forces. Its major advantage is that it does not require any length of rock to be attached to the parent in order to break the core at the desired location. Test data shows that some rocks break off on their own into segments or break off into discs. This idea would grab and retain a disc, push some discs upward and others out, or grab a segment, break it at the contact plane, and retain the portion inside of the device. It also does this with few moving parts in a simple, space-efficient design.

This discovery could be implemented into a coring drill bit to precisely break off and retain any size rock core.

This work was done by Megan Richardson and Justin Lin of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-47444

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Method for Cleanly and Precisely Breaking Off a Rock Core Using a Radial Compressive Force

(reference NPO-47444) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

Don't have an account? Sign up here.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.