Cylindrical Autonomous Drilling Bore Bot Could Finally Reach Buried Martian Life

Finding Martian life has remained one of the top priorities of astrobiologists across the world. Scientists have revealed that the south pole region of the Martian surface could be the best area to search for evidence of life on the red planet. If there is eventually any sign of ancient life on Mars, space agencies will see the need to drill the red planet and see what lies beneath its hostile surface. However, the change of digging deep on the rough Martian surface could potentially require bulky and heavy drilling deep-bore drilling equipment.

Setting up such heavy equipment could also be challenging for any space agency attempting to do on the Martian South Pole. However, a team of engineers from Planet Enterprises, a Space Technology Incubator located in Washington, United States is currently developing a new deep bore drilling technology which they named Borebots.

How scientists came up with this new idea of drilling buried Martian Life

When the team of engineers from Planet Enterprises presented the concept of Borebots in 2021, NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts NIAC) support the futuristic idea. Quinn Morley and Tom Bowen led the team to publish a 96-page report of their efforts, detailing how Borebots will make fascinating progress in extraterrestrial drilling and how widely the concept will be considered in meeting several other exploration needs. Interestingly, the primary goal of this project is to build Borebots that can drill the surface of the Martian south pole in search of underground water for Martian life.

The engineers revealed that they could obtain enriched scientific data from a borehole reaching a depth of about 50 m beneath the surface. Reaching such a depth on Earth would need some kind of tether to return to the surface. In most cases, engineers drilling up to such depth would consider a cable or a strong piping system to provide control and power to the drilling bit. This implies that several mostly heavy materials may be required for the implementation of this concept.

More heavy materials imply that the cost of bringing this idea into reality will be high. However, the engineers at Planet Enterprises think that making autonomous bots execute the drilling process without the requirement of tethering to a base station. This creative solution revealed that the bots will resemble pieces of drilling tubing while being autonomous with a drill bit, motor, self-contained battery, and electronic system. All these components will be housed in a cylindrical-shaped object that will be 64mm in diameter by 1.1 m long.

How the Cylindrical Autonomous Drilling Bore Bot will operate on Mars

The engineers noted that the cylindrical housing of the drilling components could commence operation aboard a rover similar to the Perseverance rover currently operating on Mars. Once the operation started, the rover would push out a deployment tube which the bot would use to descend to the surface and commence with the drilling process.

The drilling operation will rely on the self-contained battery system of the Borebot. It will deploy its drilling bit to bore through the harsh surface of Mars. But when the Borebot begins to lose more of its battery life, it will conduct some traction spikes on its side and climb out of the hole. As soon as the Borebot enters the deployment tube and back into the rover, the autonomous system will commence with the cleaning and recharging process on the drilling bot. After it has fully recharged, the Borebot could possibly return to the Martian surface and continue digging the hole.

While making plans for the Borebot, the Planet Enterprises engineers think of different possible problems that could potentially occur during the drilling process. Some of these challenges include how to restore power to a dead Borebot in the process of drilling a hole. They revealed that they can power a dead Borebot by developing robots with the ability to provide power for each other.

While making the final report, the engineers revealed several interesting CAD designs and 3D-printed devices. The report also contains some math showing calculations from the power electronics to the torque required for the drill bit to operate. The team also revealed that The Mars Society has shown interest in using this technology for resource extraction on Mars and other water words in the solar system.

When Cylindrical Autonomous Drilling Bore Bot Development Commence To Bore Martian Life?

The team of engineers is yet to announce with the next phase of the project will start. However, the published paper revealed a detailed plan on how to boost the Technology Readiness Level of the project. However, the engineers may not have received funding from NIAC or any other source.

But, the Planet Enterprises engineers have been working on their TitanAir concept which they obtained funding from a NIAC Phase I award in 2023. Hence, they have a lot of time to work on several innovative ideas. The entire report was published in NIAC and will be accessed from here.

Conclusion

Drilling Martian life using a Borebot is about to become possible with the innovative ideas of engineers at Planet Enterprises. With this innovative approach, we should be expecting the technology to be in active operation a few years from now. What do you think about this creative approach to finding Martian life?

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