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Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

Development of a thin section device for space exploration: Rock

cutting mechanism
Christopher B. Dreyer ⇑, James R. Schwendeman, John P.H. Steele, Thomas E. Carrell,
Andrew Niedringhaus, John Skok
Colorado School of Mines, 1600 Illinois St., Golden, CO 80401, USA

Received 22 May 2012; received in revised form 13 December 2012; accepted 17 December 2012
Available online 22 December 2012


We have developed a rock cutting mechanism for in situ planetary exploration based on abrasive diamond impregnated wire. Perfor-
mance characteristics of the rock cutter, including cutting rate on several rock types, cutting surface lifetime, and cut rock surface finish
are presented. The rock cutter was developed as part of a broader effort to develop an in situ automated rock thin section (IS-ARTS)
instrument. The objective of IS-ARTS was to develop an instrument capable of producing petrographic rock thin sections on a planetary
science spacecraft. The rock cutting mechanism may also be useful to other planetary science missions with in situ instruments in which
sub-sampling and rock surface preparation are necessary.
Ó 2012 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Planetary missions; In situ measurement; Sample preparation

1. Introduction to reduce the sample to a workable size and define the

plane of the thin section for scientific study. The sample
The petrographic thin section is a sample of rock is then mounted on a microscope slide using an adhesive.
reduced in thickness to 30 lm and with polished surfaces The final step is grinding and polishing the unmounted
such that when viewed in a petrographic microscope the side of the sample to the required thickness while simul-
mineral content, mineral abundance, mineral associa- taneously producing a polished surface. In this paper we
tions, rock texture, and mineral alteration can be deter- report on the development of a rough cutting mechanism
mined. Petrographic thin sections have been in use for that accomplishes the first step in this process and can be
more than 150 years (Vernon, 2004) and are fundamental made compatible with the robotic and manned spacecraft
to the study of geology. Rock thin section preparation is environments.
manually intensive and requires laboratory equipment The rock cutting mechanism development effort is part
that is incompatible with the spacecraft environment. of a broader objective to develop an instrument capable
Sample preparation typically starts with rough cutting of producing rock thin sections for robotic spacecraft.
We call this instrument the In Situ Automated Rock Thin
⇑ Corresponding author. Address: Mechanical Engineering, Colorado Section Instrument (IS-ARTS). In Paulsen et al. (in press)
School of Mines, 1600 Illinois St., Golden, CO 80401, USA. Tel.: +1 303 the work to develop a grinding and polishing mechanism
273 3890; fax: +1 303 273 3602. for IS-ARTS is reported, called Grinding Rocks Into Thin
E-mail addresses: (C.B. Dreyer), jim.schwendeman@ (J.R. Schwendeman), (J.P.H. Steele), eddie.
Sections (GRITS). In Dreyer et al. (2013)) the full IS- (T.E. Carrell), (A. Niedringhaus), ARTS instrument concept is reported and performance (J. Skok). estimates are provided.

0273-1177/$36.00 Ó 2012 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691 1675

1.1. Requirements Wire Material Technologies, 2012), and in the construction

industries (Sung, 1999). Advantages of preparation meth-
The spacecraft environment imposes many constraints ods using diamond wire saws have been reported in several
on instrument design that compel designers to seek meth- scientific disciplines. Cutting of debris laden ice and brittle
ods to minimize instrument mass, power, energy consump- ice was recommended by Tison (1994). Sample preparation
tion, and volume. Rough cutting for thin section has also been recommended for thermolumincsent dating
production requires that a sample of an initially arbitrary of archeological samples (Burleigh and Seeley, 1975). Dia-
shape be reduced to a low volume sub-sample in a plane mond wire saws were noted as being highly effective at pre-
prescribed by scientific considerations. In this discussion serving microstructure and minimizing sample loss when
we will refer to the rock sub-sample as a “tablet”. The tab- preparing brittle and porous raw fossil bone (Kim et al.,
let must be large enough to ensure that the final prepared 2011). Diamond wire saws were also noted for preserving
surface is adequate to observe the full diversity of minerals soft tissue in the preparation of sections from bovine and
and textures anticipated to be present in the sample. In canine bone sections (Mukai et al., 2009) and similarly, tis-
addition, technical considerations include that the two fac- sue growth in dental implants after implantation in rat
ing surfaces of the tablet should be parallel, flat, and models (Bates et al., 2011; Donath and Breuner, 1982).
smooth. The thickness of the tablet must be sufficient to In the construction industry wire saws composed of fixed
ensure that an adequate edge is available for mechanical cutting beads on a cable, as opposed to the continuous cut-
manipulation of the sample and so that the sample will ting surface used with small samples, are used to remove
maintain structural integrity during manipulation. large blocks of concrete and stone. While there are studies
The size of the tablet defines the minimum surface area that make special note of diamond wire as a preparation
that must be cut, for a 20  20  5 mm tablet this is tool, more commonly the merits of the cutting method used
1200 mm2; however, the actual surface area of the cut is are insignificant details, and therefore such details are fre-
larger than the tablet surface area because the rock from quently missing from scientific publications.
which the tablet is cut is larger than the tablet. The actual Diamond wire cutting as an entirely dry operation was
area is defined by the initial size of the rock sample and the selected as our focus as it presents unique capabilities as
sequence of cuts used to produce the tablet. The minimum a rock cutter. Cutting forces (normal load and tangential
energy needed to produce a cut will scale with the total vol- force) are low at the rock/wire interface (<0.45 N for
ume of material removed which is equal to the product of 3 cm of contact). With low cutting force, cutting of friable
the surface area of the cut and the kerf produced by the materials without fracture is much more likely relative to
cutting method. Kerf is the width of the material removed high normal and tangential forces when cutting with a rigid
by a cutter, generally slightly larger than the width of the disk cutter or the tool used to grip such material when cut-
cutting medium for an abrasive cutter or less for impact ting. Low applied force benefits the process of producing a
chippers. tablet as the gripping force on the rock sample can be
In the IS-ARTS concept, the tablet would be mounted to small. This allows for a simpler gripping mechanism and
a microscope slide to maintain structural integrity during the possibility of cutting fragile specimens. Wire diameters
thinning by GRITS. Rough cutting the tablet to a minimal in the 250 lm range produce kerfs on the order of 275 lm,
thickness that is sufficient for mechanical manipulation which greatly reduces the volume of material per area cut
while maintaining structural integrity would benefit GRITS (where area cut is length of cut by depth of cut) as com-
grinding medium lifetime. Ultimately the tablet size and pared to a solid disk and reduces the volume of dust pro-
shape must be evaluated with instrument reliability and life- duced per sample. The low surface contact area also
time weighed against scientific objectives. Goals of rough greatly reduces heating of the wire and rock sample. Sur-
cutter development include identification of: (1) design face finish is on the order of lm, which may help reduce
parameters critical to power consumption, mass, thermal the amount of fine grinding necessary for thin section pro-
stability, and reliability, (2) optimal cutting parameters (to duction. Diamond wire can be used to cut in orthogonal
maximize cutting rate and wire lifetime) for Lunar and planes, which reduces the number of independent cutting
Martian rock analogs, and (3) wire wear rate as a function axes required to produce a tablet. Cutting in orthogonal
of cutting parameters and rock characteristics. planes allows for wedge shape cuts to be made in the rock.
The first part of an orthogonal plane cut would have the
1.2. Diamond wire cutters wire cut rock into the rock for a certain distance, then turn
the cut orthogonal to the first cut (or at any angle) and con-
Rough cutting of rock samples is most often the work of tinue to cut. A wedge or more complex shape could be cut
disk cutters produced by many manufacturers such as Log- out of the rock, depending on the degrees of freedom pos-
itech (2012a), Buehler (2012) and others. The diamond wire sible between the rock and wire cutter. Diamond wire
cutter is often used on samples of high value where it is allows a sample sectioning instrument to handle small sam-
desirable to limit the amount of material lost during cut- ples and produce high precision cuts.
ting. Diamond wire saws are used widely in the wafer Design analyses were conducted for several configura-
(Hardin et al., 2007), the photonics industry (Diamond tions: continuous loop, reel to reel systems, and capstan,
1676 C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

each of which have different benefits (Schwendeman et al., with fluid jet cutting, most commonly using water jet,
2010). The continuous loop system has a simpler control would make this unworkable for spaceflight.
scheme and minimizes actuation requirements, but suffers Methods that would cause excessive heating of the sam-
from much shorter available wire lengths that would limit ple tablet, such as plasma cutting and thermal laser cutting
the total surface area that can be cut, relative to other sys- are ruled out because heat induced stress may cause the
tems. A reel to reel system can accommodate many kilome- tablet to fracture, and excessive heating may also alter
ters of wire, and therefore could cut a significantly greater the mineral structure. Thermal laser cutting is laser cutting
surface area, but demands a more sophisticated control in which the laser pulse duration is large compared to the
system and elaborate mechanical design. A capstan wire thermal dissipation time scale of the material, which is on
storage system can accommodate a length of wire interme- the order of one nanosecond for typical industrial and nat-
diate to reel-to-reel and continuous loop, and has a less ural solid materials (Chichkov et al., 1996). Thermal laser
complex mechanical system than reel-to-reel. Thus, cutting has been applied to industrial machining (Dubey
depending on the mission requirements, different system and Yadava, 2008), concrete cutting and glazing (Rao
configurations could be appropriate. et al., 2005), oil and gas well drilling (Olaleye, 2010), mar-
ble (Miranda, 2004), and rock (Ahmadi et al., 2011). In
2. Rock cutting methods several laser cutting examples mechanical cutting is assisted
by the thermally induced stress and fracturing caused by
Rock cutting includes the range of methods used in min- laser irradiation. These same thermal issues are also disad-
ing and industrial processing of natural materials, but also vantages for electron beam cutting and plasma cutting.
manufacturing methods. The cutting methods that can be Rock impact chippers, such as a hammer, chisel, or pick,
considered for IS-ARTS must work well with rock samples and explosives fracture the rock along pre-existing cracks
of a few cm3, work well with variable rock mechanical or weaknesses in a rock, therefore these methods are not
properties, and should not alter the rock composition. likely to produce a well controlled tablet shape or good sur-
Methods we have considered include abrasive cutting, rock face quality, and therefore can be ruled out for the IS-
impact chippers, explosives, milling machine tool cutting, ARTS device. However, these methods would be useful
fluid jet cutting, plasma cutting, and laser cutting. The pros for reducing a rock sample from their natural state to a vol-
and cons of several rock cutting techniques are summarized ume and shape appropriate for the IS-ARTS rock cutter.
in Table 1. Laser cutting by ultra-short pulsed lasers may also be a
Several cutting methods can be immediately ruled out plausible approach, as ultra-short lasres (femtosecond and
for the spacecraft environment. The excessive use of fluids picosecond pulse duration) do not thermally alter the tar-
get (Perrie et al., 2005); hence, ultra-short laser cutting
may be described as non-thermal. Ultra-short lasers deliver
Table 1
terawatts per square centimeter in a spot diameter of
Pros and cons of rock cutting methods.
microns in femtosecond (1012) pulse duration. An ultra-
Technique Pros Cons
short laser removes material by direct conversion of the
Fluid jet Controlled cutting Expendable fluid, solid to vapor or plasma, which is removed from the sur-
plane sample heating
face by gas expansion. Thermal heating of the remaining
Plasma Controlled cutting Sample heating,
plane limited cutting depth solid can be negligible if the rate of vaporization is high
Electron beam Controlled cutting Sample heating, compared to the thermal dissipation rate of the material
plane, small kerf limited cutting depth (Chichkov, 1996). However, drawbacks of ultra-short laser
Laser cutting, Controlled cutting Sample heating, systems are that they have yet to be developed for space-
thermal plane limited cutting depth
flight and the systems are typically large and electrical effi-
Laser cutting, Controlled cutting Limited cutting
non-thermal plane depth ciency is low. High energy density removal methods, such
Impact chipper Simplicity Uncontrolled cutting as Plasma cutting, electron beam, and thermal and non-
plane, high thermal laser cutting, have poor energy efficiency relative
applied force to material removal rate, which would make it challenging
Explosive Simplicity Uncontrolled
for use in spaceflight.
cutting plane,
sample heating, high Machine tool cutting, which is cutting with a hardened
applied force metal blade that removes a small amount of material at a
Machine tool cutting Controlled cutting Tool wear, high time, may be a plausible approach but rapid wear of the
plane applied force blade can be expected. A milling tool contains cutting flutes
Abrasive disk cutter Controlled cutting High applied force,
that move rapidly to cut and remove material. The cutting
plane limited cutting depth
for small kerf surface area is small relative to abrasive cutters which cause
Abrasive wire cutter Controlled cutting Length of wire, the temperature of the milling tool and material to increase
plane, small kerf, mechanical rapidly. Cooling fluids are normally used to control
orthogonal cutting, complexity temperature, thus extending tool lifetime by reducing wear,
low applied force
but a cooling fluid is undesirable in the spaceflight
C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691 1677

environment. For a cooling fluid to be used in spaceflight strength of 1.4 GPa, and maximum elongation of 0.033.
the thermal and pressure environment of the cutter and MTIXLI wire of 300 lm diameter was also tested and dem-
fluid storage would need to be maintained within a rela- onstrated greater variability than DMT wire. Ultimate ten-
tively narrow range. Fluid loss due to evaporation or sys- sile tests performed on a MTIXLI 300 lm diameter wire
tem damage due to cycles of freezing, thawing, found the ultimate tensile strength to be 1.55–1.62 GPa,
evaporation, and condensation could lead to cutter failure. yield strength of 1–1.2 GPa, and maximum elongation of
The systems to prevent failure modes related to a cooling 0.0265. DMT wire of 250 lm diameter was selected for
fluid would increase the mass and complexity of the cutting all diamond wire cutter testing.
system. The fluid must also be compatible with the rock Several wire handling mechanisms were considered and are
samples. In addition, the fluid could introduce a potential discussed in detail elsewhere (Dreyer, 2007; Schwendeman,
source of sample contamination. These issues would make
cooling fluid selection and design of a fluid cooling system
prohibitively complex tasks.
In abrasive cutting small hard abrasive particles (such as
diamond) are used to remove material. The abrasives are
normally bonded to a thin metal backing, such as a straight
blade (hacksaw), a disk (grinding disk trim saw) or wire.
Abrasive cutters reduce the cut material to a fine powder
by fracturing the rock at the microscopic scale. Compared
to cutting techniques that break rock along pre-existing
cracks (such as a rock chipper), abrasive cutting requires
large specific energy, the energy used to make the cut
divided by the volume of material removed.
To minimize the energy need to generate an individual
cut, the volume of material must be minimized. Diamond
wire saws typically use wire that produce kerf of 25 lm
greater than the wire diameter, which can be as small as
140 lm. Abrasive disk cutters typically produce kerf of
>2 mm (Logitech CS30 Trim Saw uses a 1.5 mm thick disk
blade). To make deep cuts abrasive disk cutters require a
disk thickness greater that the finest wire thickness for
structural integrity of the disk, therefore, abrasive wire cut-
ters will likely have a much lower total energy cost per cut
than abrasive disk cutters. Semiconductor dicing saws can
produce very low kerf, but the depth of cut is limited. Wear
and cutting characteristics of circular diamond disk saws
have been studied in the cutting of several types of rocks
(Ersoy and Atici, 2004, 2005; Buyuksagis, 2007; Xu and
Huang, 2004).

3. Prototype abrasive wire cutter

3.1. Wire saws

Abrasive wire saws are prevalent within the wafer and

photonics industry and are manufactured by companies
such as DMT (Diamond Wire Material Technologies,
2012), MTIXLI (MTI Corporation, 2012), Logitech (Log-
itech, 2012b), Well (Well, 2012), DDK (Delaware Dia-
mond Knives, 2012) and others. The diamond wire is
typically composed of a fine diamond powder embedded
in nickel deposited on a metal wire core. SEM micrographs
of fresh DMT are shown in Fig. 1. The DMT wire used for
this work had a 180 lm steel core with 20 lm diameter dia-
monds in a nickel layer and outer diameter of 250 lm. Ulti-
mate tensile tests performed on DMT 250 lm diameter
wire found the ultimate tensile strength to be 1.8 GPa, yield Fig. 1. DMT 250 lm diamond wire.
1678 C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

2009; Schwendeman et al. 2010). Arranged in order of the vol- Table 2

ume of wire that can be loaded into the system, wire handling Diamond wire cutter testbeds.
systems are: fixed length, continuous loop, capstan, and reel- Testbed Name Description
to-reel. A fixed length cutter is similar to a hack saw that uses a Reciprocating Saw 1 Actuator driven fixed length
very short length of wire. A continuous loop mechanism uses of wire with gravity feed.
a wire joined into a loop and the wire is threaded through at Cyclic bending testbed Continuous loop mechanism
for wire lifetime under cyclic
least two pulleys with at least one driven by a motor. A cap- bending
stan is a system that stores wire by wrapping it around the cir- Reciprocating Saw 2 Rotating wheel driven fixed
cumference of a cylinder. The wire runs off the cylinder, length of wire. Sample
around one or more pulleys, and back onto the cylinder. Cap- advanced by two axis linear
stan rotation is driven by a motor and coupled with linear translation stage.
Capstan version 1: DWCv1 First capstan system.
motion along the axis of rotation. Reel-to-reel mechanisms Capstan version 2: DWCv2 Final TRL 4 testbed.
consist of a supply reel and a take-up reel, the wire is trans-
ferred between the reels and a reefing mechanism is used to
direct the wire on and off the reels. Reel-to-reel mechanisms
may be driven by motors on one or both reels. A reefing mech-
anism is also necessary for a capstan system, but can be easily
incorporated into the system with a spiral groove in the cylin-
der and by matching capstan linear motion to wire diameter.
Reel-to-reel mechanisms can have the longest total length of
wire by using a reefing mechanism that overlaps the wire upon
itself on the reels; however, wire-to-wire contact will cause
more rapid wire wear relative to mechanisms without wire-
to-wire contact. All mechanisms require a method to tension
the wire. Spring loaded tensioning pulleys can be used in all of
the mechanisms. In the reel-to-reel systems a motor driving
the two reels and working in opposition to each other can also
e used to tension the wire. The fixed length, capstan and reel-
to-reel mechanisms are oscillatory systems that require the
wire to be driven in alternating directions and therefore suffer
higher power requirements due to acceleration and decelera- Fig. 2. DWCv1 capstan prototype.
tion of the mechanism back and forth relative to a continuous
loop system.
To the best of our knowledge, the only other work on
diamond wire cutters for use in space has been done by
Furutani et al. (2009, 2011). This rock cutter was
designed with a reel-to-reel mechanism for up to 600 m
of diamond wire operating at up to 2 m/s peak wire
velocity. Cutting tests were performed on a basalt rock
in vacuum and ambient air with 14 m of 200 lm diame-
ter wire.

3.2. Diamond wire saws developed for IS-ARTS

A total of 5 diamond wire cutters (DWC) breadboards

were built (Table 2) and hundreds of cuts performed.
Two DWC systems will be discussed in detail: DWCv1
(Fig. 2) and the final TRL 4 DWC system (Fig. 3), which
will be referred to as DWCv2. The earliest DWC was a
short fixed length cutter with a sawing action (Reciprocat- Fig. 3. Final DWCv2 prototype with capstan system for 40 m of wire.
ing Saw 1). Sawing was actuated by servo in Reciprocating
Saw 1 with the wire mounted to a carriage on a linear
track. Gravity feed was used to advance the wire into a Saddleback basalt (Schwendeman, 2009). Due to the low
sample mounted on a cantilever beam. A strain gauge on cutting rate with this reciprocating system the work moved
the cantilever beam was used to measure cutting force. Cut- toward mechanisms capable of much higher wire velocity
ting rate measurements from Reciprocating Saw 1 pro- as DWT personnel indicated that cutting rate increases
duced 5 mm2/h at 0.08 m/s average wire velocity on with wire velocity (Hodsden, 2003). The Cyclic Bending
C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691 1679

Testbed was used for cyclic bending tests of 250 lm DWT friction conversion between the rotary and linear motion.
wire in an isopropyl alcohol and dry ice bath at 60 C with Total length of travel was 25.6 cm, which provided suffi-
72.5 mm diameter pulleys and 425 mm length of diamond cient length to cut rocks to several centimeters of depth
wire. The cyclic bending test at 60 C exceeded more than and provided ample room for the operator to load samples
one million cycles without wire failure, which for steel is into the mechanism. The stage also included overlapped
indicative of an effectively infinite lifetime for bending at dust covers to minimize dust exposure of the ground
the given bend radius (Norton, 2006). ballscrew.
Like Reciprocating Saw 1, Reciprocating Saw 2 was The vertical stage was constructed from a Drylin SLW-
built with a small length of wire to produce rapid loss of 1660 pre-assembled rail system from IGUS. The Drylin
cutting function and lifetime testing of the wire. Sawing bearings were resilient to dust at the bearing/rail interface,
was actuated by a rotating wheel connected to a drive link- were relatively low friction, and demonstrated excellent
age attached to a carriage on a linear track. A rock sample positioning tolerance for a sliding contact interface. Sample
mounted to a load cell and was advanced into the wire by a fixturing was achieved using a simple parallel jaw setup.
two axis translation stage. Peak wire velocity was limited to
1 m/s due to the mass of the carriage and the testbed was
abandoned for lifetime testing using DWCv2. Capstan. The linear translation and rotation of
Two capstan diamond wire cutters (DWCv1 and the capstan were mechanically coupled and driven by a sin-
DWCv2) were constructed to explore design trade-offs gle actuator. Mechanical coupling of the motion minimized
and options. Most results reported here were made with the number of actuators required, and eliminated wire fail-
DWCv2, and a small number were with DWCv1. We will ure modes that could occur if the translation and rotation
refer to both versions when discussing test results and were uncoupled, such as errors in coordination between
therefore we present a description of both capstan abrasive separately actuated motions of translation and rotation.
wire cutters. When discussing diamond wire cutters in gen- The DWCv1 capstan (57 mm diameter) was supported on
eral we will use the acronym DWC, while when referring to either shaft end by pylons which attached to a carriage,
an individual DWC we will append v1 or v2. DWCv2 was a allowing translation and rotation. One end of the capstan
re-build of DWCv1 that addressed several deficiencies shaft extended out, was threaded, and interfaced to a brass
found in the DWCv1 design, therefore, the DWCv1 nut that was fixed relative to the carriage rail. Rotation of
description outlines the entire system design and the the capstan provided translation via the screw-nut mecha-
DWCv2 description contains only changes made to nism. The DWCv1 capstan was driven by Pittman motor
upgrade to DWCv2. 14207S008, 24 VDC, 0.35 Nm continuous torque, 2.8 Nm
peak torque, 3211 rpm rated speed.
Coupling of the capstan’s linear and rotational motion
3.2.1. DWCv1 required careful consideration with respect to binding Linear translation stages. A two degree of free- caused by assembly and operational alignment errors.
dom system for sample manipulation was constructed to There were 6 degrees of freedom (DOF) to be resolved in
demonstrate the full range of interaction at the pulley/wire the alignment of the shaft between the two pylons in order
interface with the ability to produce a complete tablet with- to kinematically constrain the capstan shaft. Fewer DOF
out human interaction. A Narrow Profile linear stage from would result in over constraint of the shaft and would have
Techno Isle was selected for the x-axis sample advance. A been potential sources of binding. Binding was eliminated
ground ball screw provided a relatively low inertia, low within the DWCv1 system by introducing slop into the

Table 3
Definitions of symbols. SI units should be used with equations listed in the text. Units used in discussions and in Table 4 of this
work are also shown.
Symbol Definition SI units Units used in this work
DT Total duration of all tests s s
Vp Peak wire velocity m/s m/s
V Average wire velocity m/s m/s
F n Average normal force N N
Q0 Average cutting rate m2/s mm2/h
rQ Standard deviation of cutting rate over full duration of all tests m2/s mm2/h
Qmax Maximum cutting rate in 120 s interval m2/s mm2/h
min Minimum cutting rate in 120 s interval m2/s mm2/h

SE Average specific energy J/m3 J/mm3
SE Maximum specific energy in 120 s interval J/m3 J/mm3
SE Minimum specific energy in 120 s interval J/m3 J/mm3
Pcut Cutting power of wire on sample W mW
1680 C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

system in the form of a loose brass nut with 4 degrees of in the DWCv1 cutting rate test results, yet cutting rate
freedom (2 rotational DOF and 2 translational DOF). could still be measured. The high noise and wire failure
The final 2 DOF are the actuated motions of the mechan- modes observed (which will be discussed later) with the
ical system, capstan shaft rotation and translation. DWCv1 prototype lead to the construction of the DWCv2
Two types of guide pulleys were attempted. Initially, an prototype.
aluminum pulley with relatively low inertia was used, but The LPU-100 was replaced with an ATI-IA Gamma 6-
suffered from out-of-plane wobble. Surface wear was visi- axis loadcell with low noise characteristics and sensing in
ble, but did not produce a significant change in the pulley additional degrees of freedom. The ATI-IA Gamma load-
dimensions. The second set of guide pulleys were made cell features amplification and signal processing to evaluate
from polyurethane wheels into which a wire guide groove the 3 reaction forces and 3 reaction torques. The Gamma
was machined on the circumference. The polyurethane resonance frequency was 1.4 kHz for force in X and Y axes
wheels demonstrated excellent planar stability due to the and torque about Z axis, and 2.0 kHz for force in Z axis
dual-bearing support, with less visible wear. and torque about the X and Y axes. Resolution of the Z
Guide pulley orientation was also modified over the life- axis was 0.0125 N/bit with 0–32 N range, and 0.00625 N/
time of the prototype. The initial guide pulley orientation bit with 0–100 N range in the X and Y axes. Additionally,
had the pulleys oriented parallel to a single cutting plane. the ATI-IA Gamma signal conditioning subsystem inter-
While this resulted in fine performance when cutting in faces directly with National Instruments data acquisition
the parallel plane, the reaction forces between the wire cards and is easily accessible via Labview.
and the pulley while cutting in the orthogonal plane An example of a short section of cutting data is shown
resulted in motion of the wire relative to the guide pulley, in Fig. 4. The control frequency was approximately
resulting in wear on the pulleys, and premature failure of 200 Hz, well below the resonant frequency of the load cell.
the wire due to torsional loading. The guide pulleys were The oscillations of torque and force seen in Fig. 4 are due
reoriented to bisect the orthogonal cutting planes at 45°, to system mechanical vibration due to slight unbalanced
thus force applied to the wire within ±45° of the plane of rotation of mechanical components.
the pulley and with a vector component directed toward Copley ACP-055-18 motor controllers provided low-
the pulley (pushes into the pulley) produces a statically level motion control and reduced the computational
determinant system, and no relative wire movement other demand on the system control computer. Commanded
than bend of the wire. over a > 1 Mbit/s CANOpen network, the Copley control-
The wire was tension to approximately 20 N by the lers handled all motion parameter feedback, and allowed
guide pulley furthest from the capstan that was mounted the user to define specific motion profiles, homing
on a spring-loaded linear translation rail. This assembly sequences, or operate in torque or velocity modes. Addi-
is referred to as the tensioner. The DWCv1 tensioner used tionally, the controllers communicated diagnostic parame-
an IGUS rail and carriage a spring of 6300 N/m spring. ters to the host computer such as instantaneous torque,
Wire tension was set by measurement of the rail displace- velocity, acceleration, bus voltage and current, and ampli-
ment while loading the capstan with wire. fier temperatures. The capstan motion profile was defined
by start and end points, peak acceleration, jerk and velocity Instrumentation. The control scheme for the cap- parameters. The profile was then commanded to start and
stan was to set a capstan motion profile and control the repeat itself, until the host computer indicated otherwise.
advancement of the wire into the rock sample while main- Cutting was achieved by maintaining a constant normal
taining a specified normal force on the sample. The instru- force between the rock sample and wire. Normal force was
mentation and controls for the DWCv1 went through instrumented by the ATI-IA Gamma loadcell and passed
multiple iterations before settling on a final system. Direct to the host computer. Classical proportional (P) and pro-
force measurement via load transducers were preferable portional-derivative (PD) controllers were implemented
over indirect force measurement methods such as wire to handle the force feedback by commanding the instanta-
bow angle sensing, as direct methods do not require addi- neous velocity for the linear stage. The operator could also
tional data such as wire tension in order to determine nor- introduce a deadband into the controller error, at the
mal force on the sample. expense of additional actual vs. commanded error. The
The DWCv1 was first instrumented with a LPU-100 deadband was determined at the beginning of each cutting
loadcell (rated for 100 lbf (445 N) compression, approx. sequence by sampling the loadcell for 200 kS while the cap-
2 kHz frequency response), but noise was 0.5–1.0 N, which stan was in motion, and defining half of the maximum var-
limited the accuracy of the commanded normal force. The iance as the deadband. By sampling the loadcell while the
stiffness and short stroke of the wire tensioner of the capstan was moving, a better estimate with respect to oper-
DWCv1 prototype and load cell noise, contributed to pro- ational noise was produced.
duce a significant variation in wire tension with capstan The control scheme provided control flexibility, allow-
position. This varying tension resulted in significant vari- ing the operator to define a series of cutting sequences with
ance in the sample displacement as a function of capstan ease. The host computer initialized the CAN PCI-card and
position. These factors contributed to produce large noise the Copley amplifiers, loaded the setup files specific to each
C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691 1681

Fig. 4. Typical capstan data using ATI-IA Gamma loadcell.

motor/amplifier combination and performed the homing and direct-drive motor. While the carriage linear rails
sequence for each amplifier. The host computer then drastically reduced drive losses, they increased mechani-
moved the sample in either the X or Z direction to the cal complexity and dust sealing issues. The DWCv2 cap-
absolute distance specified from the respective home posi- stan design was selected to eliminate the capstan carriage
tions. A cut was performed in either the X or Z axis until and decouple the motor mass from the capstan to reduce
either the maximum time or specified distance was energy expenditures while improving performance and
achieved, while maintaining the desired normal cutting dust handling. The DWCv2 diameter was 113 mm and
force. At the conclusion of a test the host computer dis- 107 mm in length with pitch approximately 1 mm per
abled all amplifiers closed the CANOpen network and groove. A simply supported beam configuration for
notified the user that the test completed or faulted out. mounting the capstan was selected to provide high stiff-
The control scheme was effective in that the user could ness and minimize the support structure required. One
setup multiple test configurations with ease and could end of the support structure provided the rotationally-
achieve the level of automation required to produce a com- coupled linear translation, while the other end of the
plete tablet from start to finish without human structure coupled shaft rotation with the drive motor.
intervention. Fig. 3 shows the DWCv2 prototype configuration. The
The DWCv1 was capable of up to 2 m/s peak wire screw/nut interface experienced axial loading, while the
velocity, limited by the peak angular velocity of the drive radial loads imparted by the wire tension and capstan
motor and the capstan radius. Greater operating speeds mass were low enough for the nut to provide sufficient
were desirable for increasing the cutting rate; unfortu- support. The motor end of the shaft was splined, and
nately, the method of assembly of DWCv1 made it difficult interfaced with a rotary ball spline nut on the opposite
to increase the capstan diameter or change the drive gear pylon. The rotary ball spline was fixed to the pylon,
ratio. Additionally, the high inertia guide pulleys limited and allowed rotation and translation of the shaft relative
jerk and acceleration, thus drastically reducing the time to the pylon. A 5 mm HTD (high-torque drive) timing
that could be spent at peak velocity. pulley transmitted motion between the motor and rotary
ball spline. The DWCv2 capstan was driven by Torque
3.2.2. DWCv2 Systems motor MH2620, 24 VDC, 0.37 Nm continuous
With the experience gained from the DWCv1, a second torque, 2.1 Nm peak torque, 2160 rpm rated speed.
prototype was designed with the goal of expanding the test In the DWCv2 configuration the rotary ball spline
envelope and eliminating operational issues with the earlier allowed free translation of the shaft relative to the spline
prototype. Sample manipulation, instrumentation and con- while the nut allowed free rotation of the shaft relative to
trol in DWCv2 utilized the same software control from the the nut. This effectively eliminated two potential binding
earlier prototype. DWCv2 retained the two-axis stages to degrees of freedom (rotation about/translation along X
advance the rock sample into the wire. The DWCv2 design axis). Any combination of translation or rotation would
changes largely focused on capstan design, guide-pulley provide the required compliance to eliminate binding in
and tensioner improvements. the remaining four DOF (y and z translation or rotation).
Minimizing capstan inertia and drive losses was criti- Due to tight manufacturing tolerances, flexibility during
cal when designing a power-limited cyclic system. The assembly, and a relatively stable thermal environment,
prototype capstan (DWCv1) had minimal drive losses, the DWCv2 did not require the additional four DOF
but significant inertia due to the mass of the carriage between pylons.
1682 C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

The DWCv2 pulley configuration had a second guide 4.1. Cutting rate and specific energy
pulley to reduce the effects of tensioner position changes
relative to rock sample position, i.e. the position and orien- Cutting rate is a function of the cutting medium wear,
tation of the rock sample relative to the guide pulleys was operational parameters, and the material being cut. We
fixed regardless of wire tensioner position. The DWCv2 are interested in identifying the typical cutting rate for a
tension and pulley mechanical components/system volume given set of operation parameters on a given rock sample.
were not necessarily meant for space exploration, but Several multi-rock sample sets composed of 5 or more rock
served to improve the cutting data collected to evaluate samples of uniform thickness were produced, as shown in
wire performance. Both guide pulleys bisected the two cut- Fig. 5. Samples were cut to 20 mm thickness and epoxied
ting planes at 45°, while the tensioning pulley was in the together to form a slab. The sides of the slab were cut and
same plane as the capstan. ground flat with 600 grit SiC past so that all samples had
Delrin was selected for the guide and tensioning pulleys uniform thickness. In most multi-rock sets the leading
in DWCv2. Minimal wear was observed on the guide pul- edges of the rock were rounded with 2 mm radius of cur-
leys, while some radial wear was been observed on the ten- vature to reduce wear of the abrasive wire due to cutting on
sioning pulleys. The DWCv2 pulleys had significantly a sharp edge; however, enhanced wear due to sharp rock
lower inertia compared to the polyurethane guide wheels edges was never observed. Prior to the start of cutting per-
used on DWCv1. formance tests, several starting cuts were made in each
The DWCv2 capstan design attempted to isolate capstan sample in the multi-rock sample spaced 2–3 mm apart, this
vibrations from the instrumentation package by locating all ensured that performance test data were unaffected by var-
wire handling components on a vibration-damped plate. iability in the leading edge of the sample. Performance tests
Rubber dampers with a durometer rating of 30 A were use were run in a starting cut until the depth of cut exceeded
for their relatively low frequency and low amplitude excita- 20 mm.
tion from the capstan. The plane of vibration excitation was Cutting rate is defined as the rate of advancement of the
perpendicular to the normal vector of the loadcell, so appar- wire into a rock sample at constant operation parameters.
ent noise in the normal force direction was reduced; how- Over a given set of data the cutting rate was determined
ever, noise in the instrumented tangential force increased. from a linear fit to the position of the sample stage as func-
The DWCv2 tensioner used many components from the tion of time. The standard deviation of the cutting rate was
DWCv1 tensioner, specifically the IGUS rail and carriage determined from the 95% confidence bounds of the fit.
for excellent dust resistance, but used a spring of much Specific energy is the energy expended to produce the
lower stiffness. The DWCv2 spring stiffness was 295 N/m, cut per volume of material cut and defined as:
and wire tension was set to approximately 20 N. The R t2
DWCv2 capstan achieved an even wire tension distribution t
jF tan V wire jdt
SE ¼ 1 0
within a few of cycles of the capstan and was easily identi- Q ðt2  t1 Þk
fied as the tensioner settled into a static position. Carriage
position was measured relative to the front of the tensioner where, Ftan is the tangential force on the sample, Vwire is the
to provide a spring displacement reading and wire tension instantaneous wire velocity, Q0 is the mean cutting rate
estimate. from time t1 to t2 and k is the kerf. The absolute value of
the Ftan and Vwire product was used as this ensures the re-
4. Results sult is positive even with alternating wire direction. Kerf

In order to design a cutting system around mission spe-

cific requirements the performance characteristics of the
cutting medium must be well defined. The DWC prototype
has been tested on several rocks over a range of control
parameters. Cutting rate has been measured as it sets the
time needed to produce a cut. Specific energy (J/mm3)
reveals the energy expended to produce the cut per volume
of material removed. Wire lifetime was estimated for a few
control parameters as this sets the total surface area that
can be cut with a given length of wire under specific control
parameters. Definitions of control parameters and perfor-
mance characteristics used in this work are defined in
Table 3. We have also demonstrated the ability of the wire
to cut samples of varying shape and to produce orthogonal
cuts, and examined the roughness of wire cut surfaces.
Finally, we report on wire failure modes observed and
methods to prevent wire failures. Fig. 5. A multi-rock sample for cutting rate tests of several rock samples.
C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691 1683

was assumed to be constant for all tests at 275 lm, which observed with DWCv2 that did not correlate with any
was typical value measured for several cuts. operational parameters, such as capstan position, cycle
Cutting power is the power to produce the cut at the position, normal force, and tangential force; therefore we
sample-wire interface as opposed to total device power. conclude cutting rate variance observed with DWCv2 is
Defined as: due to the natural variability of the rock samples.
Over much longer test durations, the variation of the
P cut ¼ SE  Q0  k average cutting rate of any 300 s interval compared to
the whole can be large. The histogram of cutting rate in
Cutting rate and specific energy measurements are Fig. 7 shows the cutting rate determined from a short dura-
shown in Table 4. The first cutting rate tests were per- tion cut (such as 300 s) may vary significantly from the
formed with the DWCv1 prototype. The majority of the average cutting rate over a much longer duration. The
cutting rate measurements we made with the DWCv2 pro- average cutting rate measured from a short duration test
totype. In Fig. 6 the variation of cutting rate with sample is only an estimate of the average cutting rate that would
displacement is shown as a function of displacement over be observed over a long duration. We did not have the time
300 s of cutting. Data points represent the average of nor sufficient wire to test every rock sample at every oper-
120 s of cutting data and error bars represent two standard ation parameter combination over a long duration. On
deviations of this period. Variance in cutting rate was anorthosite, the long duration histogram of 300 s intervals

Table 4
DWC performance characteristics determined using DWCv1 (V p 6 1:37 m=s) and DWCv2 (V p P 5:2 m=s). “gm” = grain mount. Units are listed in
Table 3.
Sample DT Vp V F n rQ Q0120 Q0120 
SE  120
SE  120
SE Pcut
max min max min

Anorthosite 203 0.78 0.74 0.45 6.0 0.99 47 * 120 40 * 55

Anorthosite 203 0.78 0.74 0.55 21 0.92 46 * 40 229 * 64
Anorthosite 203 0.78 0.74 0.75 38 1.04 63 1.4 31 844 19 90
Anorthosite 205 1.10 1.01 0.45 14 0.96 43 * 73 378 * 78
Anorthosite 205 1.10 1.01 0.55 17 1.02 41 * 76 589 * 99
Anorthosite 224 1.10 1.01 0.75 65 0.85 104 17 25 95 16 126
Anorthosite 201 1.37 1.21 0.45 17 0.81 33 * 73 476 * 94
Anorthosite 201 1.37 1.21 0.55 36 0.96 68 11 40 135 22 110
Anorthosite 201 1.37 1.21 0.75 55 0.94 78 30 36 69 26 153
Anorthosite 3336 5.2 3.7 0.22 63 0.21 229 * 51 909 * 245
Anorthosite 365 5.2 3.7 0.44 186 0.40 211 145 29 36 25 413
Anorthosite 1635 10.4 5.6 0.23 214 0.48 273 133 55 87 40 892
Anorthosite 271 10.4 5.6 0.44 610 0.52 651 552 24 27 22 1118
Belleville Basalt 556 5.2 3.7 0.22 59 0.20 116 22 65 189 33 295
Belleville Basalt 382 5.2 3.7 0.44 242 0.38 273 206 23 27 20 430
Belleville Basalt 271 10.4 5.6 0.24 236 0.54 254 221 47 51 44 852
Belleville Basalt 271 10.4 5.6 0.44 661 0.76 729 588 21 23 19 1065
Breccia 208 5.2 3.7 0.22 319 0.92 371 270 16 18 15 390
Breccia 191 5.2 3.7 0.43 1006 1.09 1045 989 9.5 9.5 8.4 727
Breccia 271 10.4 5.6 0.43 1946 1.05 2102 1790 8.4 9.1 8 1243
Breccia 271 10.4 5.6 0.22 968 0.99 1104 747 12 16 11 914
Basalt gm 691 5.2 3.7 0.25 199 0.31 239 150 25 30 22 381
Basalt gm 678 10.4 5.6 0.24 506 0.24 609 437 25 27 21 956
Hartzburgite 556 5.2 3.7 0.22 77 0.17 111 48 51 80 34 299
Hartzburgite 365 5.2 3.7 0.44 330 0.42 394 238 19 26 16 477
Hartzburgite 259 10.4 5.6 0.23 225 0.47 246 190 55 65 51 938
Hartzburgite 271 10.4 5.6 0.44 595 0.50 616 566 27 29 25 1223
JSC-1a gm 689 10.4 5.6 0.24 850 0.11 894 790 17 19 16 1133
MMS gm 133 10.4 5.6 0.20 4024 2.52     3.6     1118
Norite 205 1.10 1.01 0.45 3.2 0.80 26 * 305 236 * 75
Norite 205 1.10 1.01 0.55 22 0.86 33 1.7 55 691 36 92
Norite 205 1.10 1.01 0.75 47 0.79 77 14 36 120 23 131
Norite 573 5.2 3.7 0.22 40 0.19 132 * 80 415 * 244
Norite 382 5.2 3.7 0.44 110 0.41 156 43 47 120 33 397
Norite 271 10.4 5.6 0.23 203 0.41 227 166 58 73 51 902
Norite 271 10.4 5.6 0.44 345 0.59 394 265 40 55 36 1054
Saddleback basalt 1311 5.2 3.7 0.25 110 0.21 133 92 44 51 40 367
Saddleback basalt 267 10.4 5.6 0.25 293 0.38 313 281 40 40 35 895
* Negative.
  Insufficient data.
1684 C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

Fig. 6. Cutting rate versus penetration depth in (a) anorthosite, 120 s window at 6 s intervals, 5.3 m/s peak wire velocity, 0.22 N normal force, (b) norite,
120 s window at 6 s intervals, 5.3 m/s peak wire velocity, 0.44 N normal force, (c) breccia, 120 s window at 0.6 s intervals, 5.3 m/s peak wire velocity,
0.44 N normal force.

Fig. 7. Variation in measured cutting rate over many trials of 300 s intervals on anorthosite. Left: peak wire velocity of 10.4 m/s, normal force of 0.26 N.
Right: peak wire velocity of 4.0 m/s, normal force of 0.25 N.

demonstrates a 95% confidence interval (2 standard devia- Fig. 7, a 300 s cutting test has a 95% probability of being
tions) of 20% of the mean cutting rate. Thus, for anortho- within 20% of the long duration mean. While a measure-
site under the specific operational parameters of the data in ment made over a short cutting period (or depth) will have
C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691 1685

relatively low uncertainty as seen by the error bars in

Fig. 6, the cutting rate will vary over a time scale (or depth)
much greater than the uncertainty in a short duration test.
To quantify the variation observed in the short duration
cutting tests performed with the DWC prototype we ana-
lyzed test results in several ways, shown in Table 4. The
average cutting rate of the test, duration of the test in sec-
onds, the max and minimum cutting rates of individual
capstan cycles, and the number of cycles are shown. Most
cutting rate tests were 240 s in duration and consisted of 25
cycles. Each test was analyzed with a 120 s sliding window
at 6 s intervals and cutting rate and specific energy com-
puted for each window.
Due to limits set on system acceleration, the first deriv-
ative of acceleration (jerk), and the length of wire used in
the tests, the cutters spent less time at peak wire velocity
when the peak wire velocity was large. The average velocity
was 5.6 m/s when the peak was 10.4 m/s and 3.7 m/s when
the peak was 5.2 m/s. The total duration of testing for a
sample at particular cutter settings is reported. Test dura-
tions of less than 300 s are a single continuous test, while
test durations longer than 300 s are more than one test.
Typically, individual tests were 200 s duration; however,
several samples at the same system operation parameters
(wire velocity and normal force) were tested repeatedly.
Samples of anorthosite were tested repeatedly at the same Fig. 8. Cutting rate versus peak velocity of five different rock types from
wire velocity and normal force conditions to provide a 0.22 to 0.75 N normal force. Legend states sample type and range of
standard measure of wire wear during testing session and normal force. Cutting rate at 61.37 m/s peak wire velocity from DWCv1
and from DWCv2 at P5.2 m/s peak wire velocity.
for relating cutting rate when different wire was used. In
a typical testing session a multirock sample was used that
was composed of 5 or 6 different samples and the sample
consistently produced the lowest cutting rate, while the cut-
system control conditions were used for all samples in the
ting rate of anorthosite, belleville basalt, and harzburgite
same testing session.
were faster than Norite. The breccia tested produced the
As was shown in Fig. 6, the mean cutting rate over a
fastest cutting rates several times greater than the igneous
120 s interval can be well outside the uncertainty of the
rock samples. A power law function produces a good fit
mean cutting rate of the full test duration. To quantify this
to the anorthosite cutting rate data at 0.44–0.45 N normal
trend across all test conditions, the maximum and mini-
force with the form Q0 ¼ AV Bp , where units of cutting rate
mum cutting rate and specific energy in 120 s intervals
and peak wire velocity are consistent with Table 3,
are shown in Table 4. Because the time to complete a cap-
A = 10.22 and B = 1.75, R2 = 0.998. A power law fit to
stan cycle time is not constant with velocity, fixed time
the norite data at 0.44–0.45 N was A = 2.77 and
interval processing causes the number of cycles to vary with
B = 2.11, R2 = 0.995. The fitting reveals that the wire cut-
wire speed; peak wire speed of 10.4 m/s contained approx-
ting rate follows a nearly parabolic power law function
imately 22 cycles in 120 s, approximately 15 cycles for
with peak wire velocity.
5.2 m/s peak velocity, approximately 5 cycles for 1.37 m/
s, approximately 4 cycles for 1.10 m/s, and approximately
3 cycles for 0.78 m/s. The two high speed test conditions 4.2. Wire lifetime
have sufficient cycles in the processing interval to be repre-
sentative of the sample. However, low speed tests with few The DWCv2 prototype was used to evaluate wire life-
cycles in the processing interval cause inconsistencies in the time at 10.4 m/s and 5.3 m/s peak velocity and 0.25 N nor-
fixed processing interval results. This can be seen as a few mal force cutting an anorthosite sample. Fresh wire of
tests produced negative cutting rate and specific energy 30 m length was used for each test. The tests were run until
over a 120 s interval. The cutting test of a Mars Mojave the cutting rate declined by slightly more than 20%; there-
Simulant (MMS) grain mount was too short for interval fore, tests did not run out to total loss of cutting function.
processing to be performed. In Fig. 9 the area cut versus cycle number is shown for the
The cutting rate data from DWCv1 and DWCv2 tests two wire lifetime tests. The wire lifetime test at 10.4 m/s
are shown graphically in Fig. 8. Cutting rate increased with peak velocity was run for 64 h of total cutting time and
peak wire speed and applied normal force. Norite the 5.3 m/s peak velocity test was run for 14 h of total
1686 C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

Fig. 9. Wire lifetime tests. Left: 10.4 m/s peak wire velocity at 0.26 N normal force. Right: 5.3 m/s peak wire velocity at 0.22 N normal force. Top: the thin
black line is data and the wide gray line is a quadratic fit. Bottom: fit residuals.

cutting time. The total area cut was computed from the received was cut without any preparation. The anorthosite
width a 26 mm sample and the movement of the sample cut was on a wedge shaped section starting at the tip. The
stage. The tests were conducted in increments of a few rock core cut was down the length of the core through the
hours and required repositioning the vertical location of centerline.
the cut every few hours. After accounting for the varying length of wire contact,
Long duration cutting data of the area cut versus time is the cutting rate of the wire on the samples of arbitrary
shown in Fig. 9. The first 2000 cycles were excluded from shape were consistent with the cutting rate of the same rock
the fit because fresh wire often displayed high or low cut- types and cutting parameters measured from rocks of fixed
ting rate. Assuming the cutting rate decreases at a linear width. The rough cutting system behaved well even with
rate it follows that the area would have a quadratic rela- the vary rock surface and sharp edges of the arbitrary sam-
tionship with time. A quadratic function fit the data with ple shapes.
R2 = 0.99 or better. To estimate the total area that could For a surface to be used for thin sections the surface flat-
be cut by the wire the area at which the quadratic function ness and roughness must be much less than the thickness of
reaches a maximum is solved. That is, the fitted quadratic the final thin section, typically this is less than on microm-
function is solved for the time at which the slope of the fit- eter. Manual preparation of rock thin sections using a cut-
ted function is zero. The lifetime is then the predicted total off saw is usually followed by grinding the surface that will
area cut at this time. In Table 5 the results of the wire life- contact the microscope slide with medium grit slurry. This
time tests are listed. removes saw marks and reduces the roughness so that the
surface relief is insignificant compared to the final thin sec-
tion thickness. The surface finish of abrasive wire cut sam-
4.3. Cutting rocks of arbitrary shape
ples was analyzed to determine the surface roughness and
flatness, and are shown in Fig. 11. A Hommel T 500 profi-
The cutting of rock samples of varying thickness and
lometer with a diamond tip probe was used for profiling
arbitrary shape is required if the rough cutter is to be used
measurements (Fig. 12). Profiles reveal that the surface
in the intended application. Two tests were performed
roughness RMS was 2–5 lm. Waviness with amplitude of
using fresh wire operated at 10.4 m/s and 0.25 N normal
20–40 lm is apparent over a period of 2–3 mm.
force to cut a bare sample of anorthosite and a rock core
sample of saddle back basalt (Fig. 10). Two cuts were made
in both samples, the first in the horizontal plane, and the 4.4. Wire failure modes
second in the vertical plane. The vertical cut on each sam-
ple began a few millimeters from the end of the horizontal Any abrasive cutting surface will cease to function if cut-
cut. The wire remained in the cut channel through the pro- ting continues to total loss of abrasives, which is a failure
cess, hence demonstrating the orthogonal cutting capability mode, but in this section we consider only failure modes
of abrasive wire. The bare surface of the anorthosite as due to premature wire failures created by DWC operation

Table 5
Wire lifetime estimates.
Sample Normal force (N) Peak wire velocity (m/s) Wire lifetime (mm2)
Anorthosite 0.26 10.4 27947
Anorthosite 0.22 5.3 4949
C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691 1687

Fig. 10. Cutting of anorthosite rock bare surface and a rock core of saddleback basalt.

Fig. 11. Surface profiles of arbitrary anorthosite rock sample. Left: vertical cut, Right: horizontal cut. Top: removed piece, Bottom: mount side.

or other fault conditions. Design requirements are revealed tion was dependent on capstan position and generated sig-
by noting the existence and cause of failure modes. The nificant variation in the depth of cut analysis. This
DWCv1 highlighted many of the issues encountered in manifested as a cyclic loading of the wire that lead to pre-
developing a wire-cutting mechanism. Early control mature failure and catastrophic loss of the wire. These
schemes demonstrated the importance of fine motion con- problems were eliminated in DWCv2 by redesign of the
trol and noise propagation. The small cutting forces of dia- capstan, wire tensioner, and guide pulleys.
mond wire cutters require sensitive instrumentation, Significantly fewer issues were encountered with
sensitive control, and vibrational isolation of the capstan DWCv2; however, there were a few noteworthy issues.
mechanism from the rock sample. When the motion controller was programmed with high
The initial prototype capstans used PVC tubing as the values of acceleration and jerk slippage occurred between
capstan material. The capstan/wire coefficient of friction the wire and the delrin guide pulleys resulting in pulley
was high and prohibited the wire tension from becoming wear and failure. This was due to both the small wire-pul-
equally distributed over the length of the capstan. Uneven ley contact force and relatively high inertia of the guide
tension distribution persisted through a wire-lifetime of pulleys. To reduce wear on the pulleys, a substantial
operation, which resulted in significant fluctuation in the amount of material was removed from the pulleys to
reaction force on the sample causing a high amplitude peri- reduce pulley inertia and afterward minimal slippage and
odic variation in sample position. The DWCv1 would wear was observed. DWCv2 was capable of much higher
advance and retreat the wire from the cutting surface in wire velocity than DWCv1, and coupled with the cyclic
an attempt to maintain constant applied force. The varia- nature of the capstan motion, mechanical components
1688 C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

Fig. 13 is the compression side of the same wire; the

nickel–diamond abrasive layer is altered from the pristine
state, but still intact compared to the tension side. Fig. 13
(bottom) shows worn wire after a few thousand cycles of
cutting normal rock cutting. The worn side can be seen
on the top (left bottom Fig. 13) or left (right bottom
Fig. 13). Wire worn by normal cutting is apparent as a
smoothing of the worn side and as linear grooves that
run the length of the wire. The unworn side of the wire
in Fig. 13 bottom is unchanged relative to pristine wire
(Fig. 1).

5. Discussion

For a DWC to be used in space flight one must under-

stand its performance under a variety of operation condi-
tions and identify design risks. To this end, the
experimental results presented show several trends that
would hold for a DWC in space flight. The hardest rocks
produce the lowest cutting rates, while weakly consolidated
rocks, such as breccia, produce the highest cutting rate.
The absolutely highest cutting rate was produced by a
basalt grain mount. We found that increasing applied nor-
mal force and increased wire velocity increased cutting rate.
Increasing the normal force would likely shorten wire life-
time as the pressure of rock on wire would be increased,
but this was not studied in this work. Increased wire veloc-
ity was found to increase wire lifetime; however, this is at
odds with other work (Furutani et al., 2011).
Furutani et al. used a reel-to-reel abrasive wire cutter
with 14 m of 0.28 mm diameter diamond wire. Over a wire
velocity of 0.1 to 1.0 m/s cutting on basalt with 1.6 N cut-
ting load, they found essentially no change in the cutting
rate with wire velocity. Our results over this range of wire
velocity is best represented by the 0.7 to 1.3 m/s cutting rate
Fig. 12. Top left: anorthosite in DWCv2 mount with piece removed. Top
tests on anorthosite, which showed an increase in cutting
right: removed piece on profilometer measurement platform. Middle left:
anorthosite horizontal cut removed piece. Middle right: anorthosite rate of about 50% with increasing wire speed over this
vertical cut removed piece. Bottom left: Saddleback basalt horizontal cut range. Our results at much higher velocity 10.4 m/s
removed piece. Bottom right: Saddleback basalt vertical cut removed (5.6 m/s average) reveal a strong increasing relationship
piece. Arrow length is scale to 5 mm in each image and indicated the of cutting rate with wire velocity. Furuntani et al. tested
direction of the cut.
their reel-to-reel system in vacuum (to as low as 105 Pa)
and found that nickel adhered to the basalt sample and
could become loose leading to misalignment and wire that the cutting rated decreased. They did not find nickel
failure. to adhere when cutting in air. They concluded that cutting
The capstan diameter of DWCv1 was 57 mm was found in vacuum caused the diamond to slip in the nickel layer.
to cause the loss of the diamond-nickel layer on the tension The results of our diamond wire experiments show that
side of the wire. The wire on the smaller diameter DWCv1 cutting rate increases by nearly two orders of magnitude
capstan would show a sudden loss of cutting function for only one order of magnitude increase in wire velocity
between 10 and 20 thousand cycles without wire breakage. (Fig. 8). While also doubling the wire velocity leads to a
Fig. 13 (top) shows SEM images of compressive (right) and 6-fold increase in wire life time (Table 5). These results
tension side (left) of the wire after 20 thousand cycles of a are surprising in comparison to machine tool cutting where
low speed test without wire-rock contact. In Fig. 13 top faster tool speed would lead to shorter tool lifetime. But
left, the dark surface in the center of the wire is the steel standard machine tool processes involve metal-to-metal
core with a thin layer of nickel–diamond remaining. The contact with relatively constant tool duty cycle. In contrast,
original nickel–diamond layer can be seen above and below the diamond wire cutting system relies on a micro-fracture-
the core on the sides of the wire. Excessive tension appears like interaction and “tool wear” consists of discreet loss of
to have caused loss of the abrasive layer. Top right in embedded diamond, rather than global material loss. Based
C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691 1689

Fig. 13. Abrasive loss due to excessive wire tension without wire-rock contact for 20 K cycles on small diameter capstan and normal wire wear with rock
cutting. Top left: nickel–diamond abrasive loss on the tension side; the nickel–diamond abrasive layer has been largely removed. Top right: the
compression side of the same wire; much of the nickel–diamond abrasive remains. Bottom: normal wire wear with rock-wire contact. The flattened side
with linear grooves is the rock cutting surface. The opposite side is largely unchanged from pristine wire (Fig. 1).

on the images of diamond wire after use, it seems clear that the wire cutting function and lifetime. The diamond wire
embedded diamond is lost from the system by failure of the cutting system is likely a complex interaction of several fac-
bonding force of the nickel and not the material decay of tors that are not well described by conventional machine
the diamond. Diamond particle loss was observed by tool cutting theory.
Furuntani and in our work (Fig. 13). The results presented in this paper show that in a favor-
Differences in tool cooling and cuttings removal should able thermal environment cutting rate and wire lifetime can
also be considered to explain the trends observed with dia- be substantially increased relative to a poor thermal envi-
mond wire as compared to machine tool processes. Any ronment. While our work was completed in air the air itself
given element of diamond wire spends only a brief time was not the most important factor, but rather most impor-
in contact with the rock sample and contact time decreases tant was that the wire was maintained at room temperature
with increasing wire velocity all other things being equal. due to convective cooling. To maintain good cutting per-
Movement of the wire in air cools the wire by convection. formance in vacuum alternatives to the nickel layer that
The findings reported by Furuntani et al., i.e. the reduced have a higher melting point and thermal control of the wire
cutting rate in vacuum as compared to air, could be should be investigated. In vacuum or low pressure on
explained by local heating due to the lack of convective Mars, active or passive cooling could be achieved by cool-
cooling in vacuum. Movement of the wire would entrain ing of the wire, the pulleys, capstan, or reels. Cooling may
air through the cutting slot, further cooling the wire. Cut- be provided in the space environment by passive radiators.
tings are removed at the scale of the diamond grit and tra- The power needing to be dissipated is not large as the total
vel through the cutting slot where they are ejected. A bed of cutting power even at a high cutting rate is low. The cutting
cuttings would develop between the wire and rock if the power is the product of cutting rate (Table 4), specific
cutting slot were sufficiently long, which would impact energy (Table 4), and kerf. Anorthosite at 5.6 m/s average
1690 C.B. Dreyer et al. / Advances in Space Research 51 (2013) 1674–1691

wire velocity and 0.23 N normal force required 899 mW to to the sample, not the laser input electrical energy. The
cut the rock, assuming a 275 lm kerf. The thermal power DWC cutting process can be expected to be fundamentally
needing to be dissipated at the rock-wire interface is there- more energy efficient due to mechanical removal rock frag-
fore small as it can only be a fraction of cutting power. ments compared to any method, such as thermal laser abla-
In Ersoy and Atici (2004) the performance of 40 cm disk tion, which removes rock via vaporization.
saws with 150 lm to 1 mm diameter diamond in a Cu– The power required for DWC rock cutting ranged from
Bronze metal matrix when cutting a variety of rocks was 55 mW to 1.24 W. At the most favorable specific energy
studied. The lowest specific energy was found to be on and high cutting rate the rock cutting power required 0.9
the order of 0.5 J/mm3 with basaltic andesite, dacite, and to 1.24 W for the samples studied. It is important to note
tuff samples at a cutting rate 400 cm2/min using 65 m/s disk that this is the power delivered to the rock, not the system
velocity and normal force of approx. 100 N. Under similar power. Due to the oscillatory motion of the capstan DWC,
operational parameters, Ersoy found that the cutting rate the system required mechanical power is dictated by the
of granite samples produced among the highest specific system inertia and velocity profile. DWCv2 mechanical
energy around 3 J/mm3. The specific energy found by power to operate at 10.4 m/s peak wire velocity with
Ersoy were less than the cutting found with the DWC, 40 m of wire was 7.7 W to 11 W depending on the sample.
however, Ersoy operated at much higher applied normal The DWCv2 mechanical cutting efficiency was therefore 8–
force and saw velocity. The normal force found by Ersoy 9%. A spaceborne capstan DWC could achieve greater
was over two orders of magnitude greater than the normal mechanical efficiency by minimizing system inertia and
force used in the DWC. As already discussed, the low nor- maximizing the time spent at peak wire velocity. DWC sys-
mal force requirements of DWC enables cutting of samples tems that use a continuous system or oscillatory systems
that are small and friable. The power law fit for anorthosite with longer wire could achieve higher mechanical cutting
cutting rate at normal force of 0.44–0.45 N extrapolated to efficiency due to more time spent at peak wire velocity.
a peak wire velocity of 65 m/s predicts 2.5 cm2/min. A
power law fit of specific energy versus peak wire velocity 6. Conclusions
for the same sample and normal force predicts specific
energy of 7 J/mm3 at 65 m/s. While cutting rate for a A rock cutting machine (DWC), based on abrasive dia-
DWC at similar linear velocity as the Ersoy disk is still well mond wire cutting technology, has been designed and dem-
below the cutting rate found by Ersoy, the specific energy onstrated. Use of diamond wire significantly reduces power
predicted for a DWC at high wire velocity is within an requirements while multiplying the degrees of cutting free-
order of magnitude of the disk cutter, while still operating dom relative to other cutting methods considered. Test
at low normal force. The cutting function (abrasive cutting) results indicate good cutting performance, including cut-
studied by Ersoy differs from the cutting function of the ting rate, low specific energy, surface finish and flatness
diamond wire saw. Material removal mechanism using with small kerf and low loading requirements.
small (<250 lm) diameter wire, with 10’s of lm diamond
particles, interacts with the rock at a much smaller scale Acknowledgments
than the >150 lm diamond in the Ersoy cutters. Thus the
material removal mechanism is significantly different from This work was funded by NASA Planetary Instrument
that derived for larger abrasive wheels. More study is Definition and Development program (contract
needed to better understand the interactions between dis- #NNX06AH15G). We would like to thank Douglas Stoe-
creet diamond tools and brittle rock material at the charac- ser and Steve Wilson from United Sates Geological Survey
teristic dimensions used in this work. and Douglas Rickman of NASA Marshall Space Flight
The laser machining of holes in granite and limestone Center for providing rock samples. We also thank John
rock using a pulsed Nd:Yag laser was studied by Ahmadi Hodsden from Diamond Wire Technologies for advice on
et al. (2011). Holes were drilling in dry granite with a laser wire saw design.
average power at 165 W and peak power at 2.75 kW (in
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