Investigating thermal properties of gas-filled planetary regoliths using a thermal probe
We introduce a general purpose penetrator, fitted with a heater, for measuring temperature and thermal diffusivity. Due to its simplicity of deployment and operation the penetrator is well suited for remote deployment by spacecraft into a planetary regolith. Thermal measurements in planetary regoliths are required to determine the surface energy balance and to measure their thermal properties. If the regolith is on a planet with an atmosphere a good understanding of the role of convection is required to properly interpret the measurements. This could also help to identify the significant heat and mass exchange mechanisms between the regolith and the atmosphere. To understand the role of convection in our regolith analogues we use a network of temperature sensors placed in the target. In practical applications a penetrator will push material out of the way as it enters a target possible changing its thermal properties. To investigate this effect a custom built test rig, that precisely controls and monitors the motion of the penetrator, is used. The thermal diffusivity of limestone powder and sand is derived by fitting a numerical thermal model to the temperature measurements.
Convection seems to play an important role in the transfer of heat in this case. Firstly a diffusion-convection model fits the laboratory data better than a diffusivity-only model. Also the diffusivity derived from a diffusivity-convection model was found to be in good agreement with diffusivity derived using other methods published in the literature. Thermal diffusivity measurements, inspection of the horizontal temperature profiles and visual observations suggests that limestone powder is compacted more readily than sand during entry of the penetrator into the target. For both regolith analogues the disturbance of material around the penetrator was determined to have an insignificant effect on the diffusivity measurements in this case.