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MDA Alliance has delivered a prototype of a tether-reel mechanism for an instrumented borehole drill that may be used on NASA’s future mission to the northern plains region of Mars.

NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC) manages the IPP project known as ‘ICE-AX’ and is developing the drill.

The drill would be an integral component on a future mission to Mars, where drilling into ice-rich soil may reveal evidence of past life forms.

‘A tethered drill is the only way to accomplish deep drilling with a low mass system, but this requires a system to reel tether in and out,’ said Dr Carol Stoker, NASA ARC’s principal investigator.

The tether-management system will deploy, operate, and retract the drill and its instruments up to a depth of 10m.

It is capable of managing a tether that has both power and data cables and a gas line, and it can carry a tensile load of up to 500N.

The ICE-AX system includes a drill to generate a borehole and a set of instruments to inspect it, including a miniature Biospectral Logger (mBSL) and a Borehole Neutron Probe (BNeuP).

Both the drill and the tether management system will be tested in ARC’s Planetary Aeolian Laboratory (PAL) under a Mars-like pressure environment.

Successful tests will advance the various elements of the system to a TRL range of four to six.

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