Study of the Formation of Duricrusts on the Martian Surface and Their Effect on Sampling Equipment

1Norbert Kömle,2Craig Pitcher,2Yang Gao,3Lutz Richter
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article [http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2016.08.019]
1Space Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Schmiedlstraße 6, A-8042 Graz, Austria
2STAR Lab, Surrey Space Centre, University of Surrey, Guildford, GU2 7XH, UK
3OHB System AG, Manfred-Fuchs-Straße 1, 82234 Weßling – Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany
Copyright Elsevier

The Powdered Sample Dosing and Distribution System (PSDDS) of the ExoMars rover will be required to handle and contain samples of Mars regolith for long periods of time. Cementation of the regolith, caused by water and salts in the soil, results in clumpy material and a duricrust layer forming on the surface. It is therefore possible that material residing in the sampling system may cement, and could potentially hinder its operation. There has yet to be an investigation into the formation of duricrusts under simulated Martian conditions, or how this may affect the performance of sample handling mechanisms. Therefore experiments have been performed to create a duricrust and to explore the cementation of Mars analogues, before performing a series of tests on a qualification model of the PSDDS under simulated Martian conditions.

It was possible to create a consolidated crust of cemented material several millimetres deep, with the material below remaining powder-like. It was seen that due to the very low permeability of the Montmorillonite component material, diffusion of water through the material was quickly blocked, resulting in a sample with an inhomogeneous water content. Additionally, samples with a water mass content of 10% or higher would cement into a single solid piece. Finally, tests with the PSDDS revealed that samples with a water mass content of just 5% created small clumps with significant internal cohesion, blocking the sample funnels and preventing transportation of the material. These experiments have highlighted that the cementation of regolith in Martian conditions must be taken into consideration in the design of sample handling instruments.

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