Student-Led Programs

Inferring Thermal and Mechanical Properties of Celestial Bodies Regolith Using (Simple) Low-Tech Tools

Project Summary
This program aims to develop and test new tools and algorithms for in-situ characterization of thermal and mechanical properties of regolith on celestial bodies such as asteroids, planets, and moons. The new tools and algorithms will be used onboard a landing vehicle to assess properties of regolith including friction angle, dilatancy, thermal conductivity, and specific heat. The primary objective will be to obtain as many engineering and scientific properties with simple low-tech tools such as wheels, masses, awls, small shovels, and soldering irons. These tools and related post-processing algorithms will provide clues about the nature of fundamental morphological processes on celestial bodies by providing crucial mechanical properties. The goal of this project has also a significant impact on mission cost and success, where minimizing energy, eliminating high-tech equipment failure, and optimizing functionality and data extraction are the key issues to tackle and overcome.

Lead Student - Alex Jerves
Caltech Faculty Mentor - José Andrade
JPL Research Mentor - Robert C. Anderson

Team Members (from left to right)

Regolith Team

  • Jose Andrade (Caltech, Faculty Mentor)
  • Mariia Usoltceva (MIPT)
  • Ankit Agarwal (West View High)
  • Christopher Cousté (Caltech)
  • Alex Jerves (Caltech, Study Lead)
  • Henry Ling (Columbia University)
  • Joaquin Gabaldon (Caltech)
  • Ryan Hurley (Caltech)

A Simple Device for In-Situ Direct Shear and Sinkage Tests (2.5 MB pdf)

Paper Published: Jerves, A., Ling, H., Gabaldon, J., Usoltceva, M., Couste, C., Agarwal, A., Hurley, R., Andrade, J. (2015). "A Simple Device for in-situ Direct Shear and Sinkage Tests." World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, International Journal of Mechanical, Aerospace, Industrial and Mechatronics Engineering Vol:9, No:3, 2015. (206 KB pdf)

Project Videos


Invited Lecture
How to Select a Landing Site on Mars Remote Sensing of Physical Properties of Surface Materials on Mars (video) by Matt Golombek - July 8, 2013


For questions contact: Alex Jerves or Michele Judd

Alex Jerves

Lead student Alex Jerves from Caltech.

Alex Jerves

In-situ direct shear/sinkage tests device built by the student-led team in August 2013.