Development of a thin section device for space exploration: Overview and system performance estimates

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In this paper we present a conceptual design of a spaceborne instrument for the in situ production of rock thin sections on planetary surfaces. The in situ Automated Rock Thin Section Instrument (IS-ARTS) conceptual design demonstrates that the in situ production of thin sections on a planetary body is a plausible new instrument capability for future planetary exploration. Thin section analysis would reduce much ambiguity in the geological history of a sampled site that is present with instruments currently flown. The technical challenge of producing a thin section device compatible with the spacecraft environment is formidable and has been thought too technically difficult to be practical. Terrestrial thin section preparation requires a skilled petrographist, several preparation instruments that individually exceed typical spacecraft mass and power limits, and consumable materials that are not easily compatible with spaceflight. In two companion papers we present research and development work used to constrain the capabilities of IS-ARTS in the technical space compatible with the spacecraft environment. For the design configuration shown we conclude that a device can be constructed that is capable of 50 sample preparations over a 2 year lifespan with mass, power, and volume constraints compatible with current landed Mars mission configurations. The technical requirements of IS-ARTS (mass, power and number of samples produced) depend strongly on the sample mechanical properties, sample processing rate, the sample size and number of samples to be produced. © 2012 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Advances in Space Research

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