We’ve drilled thousands of boreholes in our 20+ years of experience here at Borehole Solutions, but we’ve never seen so much as a hint of extra-terrestrial beings buried beneath our feet. Maybe NASA will have better luck on Mars? The Perseverance Rover is actually attempting this right now. What method are they using? What better way to figure out what the ground is made up of than boreholes, of course!
That’s right, the Perseverance Rover has officially drilled its first borehole on Mars. However, it didn’t all go to plan. The car-sized rover was supposed to be collecting a sample for analysis back on Earth. A geotechnical site investigation millions of miles away. Unfortunately, when the sensors were supposed to detect a change in weight, nothing happened! According to NASA, this had never happened in their tests on Earth. Are the Martians messing with us?
The space agency didn’t think this would be the case, so they did some digging, if you’ll excuse the pun. It turns out that the rock they bore into didn’t react in the way they expected. It was “unusually soft” which meant the missed fragments are stuck in the hole or left in the cuttings around the hole. NASA did everything they could to determine it was a good spot to get a sample from, using imaging from Perseverance and Ingenuity, it’s ride-along helicopter companion, but it just didn’t work this time.
This is something that can happen back here on terra firma too. Our ground is nonhomogeneous, which means areas that aren’t even far from each other can have a different composition. You might think you’re using the right tool for the job, but then the ground makeup is different than expected, so you have to adapt to a different method. Always be prepared! (We appreciate that this is much harder when you have to do it from about 400 million miles away!)
How similar is borehole drilling on Mars to Earth?
You might think that the advancements in space-age technology would consist of zapping Mars with lasers rather than using the same techniques as we do here on Earth. Well, they totally are using lasers to zap Mars, but not to bore the initial hole itself.
What NASA use is actually a very familiar process to us here at Borehole Solutions. They use a hollow coring bit and a rotary percussive drill mounted to a 7-foot arm on the front of the rover. We don’t use 7-foot robot arms, but the rest is pretty much the same, although NASA do it a lot smaller. The process used in this case is more akin to what we would call window sampling, which is a method of collecting a small amount of material from a shallow depth.
Obviously, here on earth we would still bore down several meters to find untouched material, but this isn’t such an issue on Mars. They might also struggle to get one of the 200kg drilling rigs up there anyway! No, for now they are only getting a small amount of material, about 10g-15g, for analysis in about a decade’s time when they can be collected.
Of course, this simply wouldn’t do should you wish to, say, build a house on Mars. So, if you’re reading this Elon, once you’re done making robot butlers and want to focus on colonising Mars again, you’re going to need some expert borehole engineers on board to make sure you find the right place to start building! You know where to find us.
It’s very exciting to see what we do being carried out in space, but we’re focused on locations a bit closer to home. If you’d like to find out more about geotechnical site surveys, percussive drilling or window sampling, then get in touch! Contact Borehole Solutions today on 01733 200501.