Pneumatic and Percussive Penetration Approaches for Heat Flow Probe Emplacement on Robotic Lunar Missions

K. Zacny, S. Nagihara, M. Hedlund, G. Paulsen, J. Shasho, E. Mumm, N. Kumar, T. Szwarc, P. Chu, J. Craft, P. Taylor, M. Milam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In this paper, the development of heat flow probes for measuring the geothermal gradient and conductivity of lunar regolith are presented. These two measurements are the required information for determining the heat flow of a planetary body. Considering the Moon as an example, heat flow properties are very important information for studying the radiogenic isotopes, the thermal evolution and differentiation history, and the mechanical properties of the interior. In order to obtain the best measurements, the sensors must be extended to a depth of at least 3 m, i.e. beyond the depth of significant thermal cycles. Two approaches to heat flow deployment and measurement are discussed in this paper: a percussive approach and a pneumatic approach. The percussive approach utilizes a high frequency hammer to drive a cone penetrometer into the lunar simulant. Ring-like thermal sensors (heaters and temperature sensors) on the penetrometer rod are deployed into the simulant every 30 cm as the penetrometer penetrates to the required 3 m depth. Once the target depth has been achieved, the deployment rod is removed from the simulant, eliminating any thermal path to the lander. The pneumatic approach relies on pressurized gas to excavate, using a cone-shaped nozzle to penetrate the simulant. The nozzle is attached to a coiled stem with thermal sensors embedded along the length of the stem. As the simulant is being lofted out of the hole by the escaping gas, the stem is progressively reeled out from a spool, thus moving the cone deeper into the hole. Thermal conductivity is measured using a needle probe attached to the end of the cone. Breadboard prototypes of these two heat flow probe systems have been constructed and successfully tested under lunar-like conditions to approximately 70 cm, which was the maximum possible depth allowed by the size of the test bin and the chamber.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-77
Number of pages31
JournalEarth, Moon and Planets
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Drilling
  • Gas drilling
  • Heat flow
  • Heat flow probe
  • Heat flow sensors
  • Heat flux
  • Lunar
  • Moon
  • Penetrometer
  • Percussive drilling


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