Setting a massive drill loose on the moon or Mars would be ideal for extracting deep rocks for scientific analysis and extraterrestrial prospecting. Problem is, drilling is hard on Earth and even harder off it. The moon has only one-sixth Earth's gravity, so a lunar drilling system needs six times as much mass to exert the same force as it would here--a grim reality when each additional pound of payload can add millions of dollars to the cost of a rocket. Complicating matters, a space drill must operate efficiently and virtually autonomously since sending humans to make repairs or resupply fuel would not be feasible.
With those concerns in mind, New York City-based Honeybee Robotics is reimagining the drill for space exploration. Instead of forcefully grinding with a sharp drill bit, Honeybee's drills use a more energy-efficient hammering motion with blunt bits to fracture the bedrock. In December the company's prototype Mars drill, IceBreaker, autonomously drilled a one-meter hole into an Antarctic glacier within an hour using far less energy than it takes to brew a pot of coffee. Honeybee is already gearing up to drill on the moon. As early as 2013 a privately launched rover equipped with the company's MoonBreaker drill will hammer a half meter into the lunar surface and collect samples for analysis by the rover's instruments.