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Published: 01 June 2016

International recognition for PhD student’s space research

A student’s research into a novel drill for use in space has won a best paper award from the global Committee on Space Research, COSPAR.

Craig Pitcher, who is studying for a PhD in the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) under the supervision of Professor Yang Gao has won the ‘Outstanding Paper Award for Young Scientists’ given by COSPAR, one of the most respected international organisations in space research. The award will be presented at the 41st COSPAR Scientific Assembly on 2 August in Istanbul, Turkey. Held bi-annually, the Assembly brings together over 2,000 scientists and engineers at the forefront of space research from around the world.

The research paper focuses on the development of a prototype Dual-Reciprocated Drill (DRD) designed for planetary exploration. Whereas conventional rotary drills rely on mass to provide the necessary pressure, the biologically-inspired DRD uses backwards-facing teethed halves to grip the surrounding soil in order to propel itself forward. Since carrying mass in space is incredibly costly, this lightweight alternative could potentially offer huge cost savings for future planetary exploration missions.

Craig’s research builds on previous work to examine how the drill head design can affect the depth the drill achieves and its power consumption, providing data which has enabled the construction and testing of a first system prototype.

Craig says, “I am very honoured that my work has received this international recognition. Working in the SSC has been a fantastic opportunity to participate in world-leading research, and I am very grateful to my supervisor Professor Yang Gao for her expertise and advice.”

Professor Yang Gao, Head of the STAR (Surrey Technology for Autonomous Systems and Robotics) Lab at SSC comments, “I am very proud of Craig for receiving this paper award which is prestigious internationally. The winning paper has presented key findings on the drilling mechanism inspired by wood wasp, a robotic technology being developed within the STAR Lab.

“These findings have a profound impact on space drilling and can help achieve viable, low-cost penetrators for future planetary exploration missions, which also present many potential spin-off applications in non-space sectors such as oil/gas and mining.”

Due to complete his PhD in June 2016, Craig aims to continue working in the field of planetary exploration, focusing on developing techniques for in-situ resource utilisation. Ultimately he hopes to develop technologies for future manned missions with which a prolonged human presence on the Moon or Mars can be established.

Craig’s research paper, ‘Analysis of drill head designs for dual-reciprocating drilling technique in planetary regoliths’ was published in Elsevier’s ‘Advances in Space Research’ in October 2015.

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