Title of Presentation: Automated Rock Thin Section Device for Space Exploration

Primary (Corresponding) Author: Chris Dreyer

Organization of Primary Author: Colorado School of Mines

Co-Authors: Kris Zacny, John Skok, John Steele, Masami Nakagawa, Jim Schwendeman, Eddie Carrell, Gale Paulsen, and M. Hedland

Abstract:  We are developing a device for automated production of rock thin sections in a space environment. A rock thin section is a rock ground to 30 microns thickness and a polished surface finish. Analysis of rocks in thin section is a powerful tool for understanding the origin and evolution of rocks on earth. Identification of mineral fractions, rock microtexture, and mineralogy allows rock type to be determined. Properly prepared thin sections can be analyzed by a number of microscopic techniques (optical, SEM, electron microprobe, etc.) some of which are already in development for space exploration. The research effort (Automated Rock Thin Section Device, ARTS) is focused on major hurdles to realize the device. Major functional subsystems will be developed to TRL-3. We are focusing our efforts on the development of mechanisms for automated handling of a variety of samples and their cutting and polishing to thin section quality. Sections will be evaluated with standard geological techniques available at the Colorado School of Mines and elsewhere. We are developing a generalized sample manipulation system for preparing thin sections of a variety of sample types, including: arbitrary rocks of up to ~8cm characteristic dimension, cores of >1cm diameter, rock fragments, regolith, and dust. Team member Honeybee Robotics is developing a precision rock grinding device for grinding rocks to thin section quality. In this year, the first year of development, we are developing thin section surface roughness requirements for analog Lunar and analog Martian rocks, acquisition of analog rocks, methods of manipulation of rocks and cutting to a pre-form for fine grinding/polishing, and approaches for grinding and polishing to thin section.