eXaminart LLC was awarded a NASA SBIR Phase II grant to develop a next-generation of planetary crystallographic instrument for definitive mineralogical analysis.

This new development will result in CheMinX, an in-situ X-Ray Diffraction and X-Ray Fluorescence (XRD/XRF) instrument suitable for a broad range of planetary surface explorations including smaller rovers and lander. The instrument will provide quantitative mineralogy and elemental chemistry from rocks and soil samples on Mars, the Moon, Venus, or other rocky or icy bodies, including Small Bodies like asteroids, comets and smaller moons. This SBIR Phase II targets a development to TRL 4/5.

The four major improvements of over CheMin (MSL) are:

  • improved XRD resolution, quantitative XRF capability,
  • a much reduced volume, and,
  • a broader field of application including Small Bodies.

eXaminart was selected for this R&D for its unique experience and capability to develop new technology for smaller more capable planetary instruments.

Possible implementation of the CheMinX instrument, visible inside a MER sized rover (as modeled ~2.0 x 1.0 x 1.0 m3, 120-150 kg). A micro-sampling powder drill -under development with Honeybee Robotics- mounted on the arm provides rock and soil samples to the instrument for mineralogical analysis.
CheMinX preliminary design. The instrument offers higher XRD and XRF performance in a package 1/3 the volume of CheMin on MSL. Dimensions 29 x 19 x 16.2 cm3.

The rover picture illustrates a possible use of CheMinX in a small Mars rover (MER size), in combination with a compact sample collection and delivery system under development in collaboration with Honeybee Robotics (micro-sampling drill). The conceptual design of the instrument illustrates a very compact design that can fit numerous platforms.

Sample Collection and delivery

CheMinX requires the collection and delivery of powdered rock materials or soils. The development of simplified Sample Acquisition and Delivery Systems (SA/DS) is critical for the deployment of XRD instruments on smaller rovers. Such systems are being developed for deployment on MER-class rovers[1]. As part of a NASA PICASSO 19 grant awarded to P. Sarrazin,  simpler sample processing and delivery systems, including a micro-sampling drill designed for low power and load requirements are being fabricated and tested, and will demonstrate CheMinX with powdering drills and arm prototypes developed at Honeybee Robotics.
Honeybee Robotic’s Rasp tool on Phoenix robotic. The potential of a RASP tool will be evaluated as part of a trade study.
Possible implementation of a compact powder collection system [2].

Primary partners in this research

  • Baja Technology LLC (USA, AZ)
  • Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation (USA, CA)


[1] Sarrazin, P., Bristow, T. F., Blake, D. F., et al. (2019). “CheMinX: A Next Generation XRD/XRF for Mars Exploration.” LPI, abstract 2236.

[2] Zacny, K., Paulsen, G., Chu, P., Hedlund, M., Spring, J., Osborne, L., … & Indyk, S. (2013). Axel rover NanoDrill and PowderDrill: Acquisition of cores, regolith and powder from steep walls. In 2013 IEEE Aerospace Conference (pp. 1-11). IEEE, Big Sky, Montana, March 2-9.