Honeybee Robotics PlanetVac on Masten Lander

PI: Kris Zacny, Fredrik Rehnmark (Co-I), Honeybee Robotics Ltd. - Brooklyn

Sample acquisition is one of the most critical and at the same time most difficult operations on the surface of a planetary body. For the past 10 years, funded via SBIR Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 (funding provided by the Planetary Society), Honeybee Robotics has been developing a pneumatic based sample acquisition and transfer system. The system resembles a terrestrial vacuum cleaner (hence PlanetVac) but it works in vacuum (terrestrial vacuum cleaners do not work in vacuum). With Masten Space Systems (Masten), Honeybee Robotics plans to test a full scale PlanetVac system and demonstrate a touch and go sample acquisition and capture. The demonstrations will include 1. take off and landing, 2. sample acquisition and capture into onboard container, 3. take off (and landing). The demonstrations will take place in Mojave Desert, which resembles planetary surfaces covered with regolith (Mars, Moon, Asteroids).

SBIR Phase I (2016)
PlanetVac website at the Planetary Society

2014 IEEE Aerospace Conference paper: PlanetVac: Pneumatic regolith sampling system.

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA04 Robotics, Tele-Robotics and Autonomous Systems
  • TA08 Science Instruments, Observations and Sensor Systems
Technology Maturation

The PlanetVac technology has been steadily climbing up the TRL ladder and it is now at TRL4. The pneumatic system has been tested in a vacuum chamber at 1/6th G (on zero-g airplane) and demonstrated excavation efficiency of 1:6000 (1 gram of N2 gas at 6 psia lofted equivalent 6000 grams of JSC-1a lunar soil simulant). The scaled model of PlanetVac was also fabricated and tested in a large vacuum chamber (

Future Customers

This project will help to bring PlanetVac to TRL 5/6 and position PlanetVac technology for several missions from Asteroids, Comets, Mars, and the Moon including NASA New Frontiers: Lunar South Pole Aitken Sample Return, Mars Sample Return, and Comet Nucleus Sample Return.

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    REDDI-F1-16 (Jul 2016)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 1 sRLV

Development Team

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