Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Space & Planetary Sciences (PhD)

Degree Level



Graduate School


Rick Ulrich

Committee Member

Mark Arnold

Second Committee Member

Larry Roe

Third Committee Member

Jon Dixon


Pure sciences; Earth sciences; Fiber optics; Mars; Optic probes; Spectroscopy; Subsurface planetary exploration


The Optical Probe for Regolith Analysis (OPRA) is an instrumentation concept designed to provide spectroscopic analysis of the near subsurface of unconsolidated regolith on bodies such as moons, asteroids and planets. Below a chemically altered surface may lay the geological history in the form of stratigraphy that is shielded from degradation due to harsh external environments. Most of what we know about our solar system comes from remote platforms, such as satellites that are deployed into orbit around the target body. In the case of Mars, we have had several successful landers and rovers however, with the exception of the Mars Science Laboratory that just drilled its first hole, the complexity of subsurface excavation has limited the extent of subsurface exploration to simple scoops deployed on the ends of robotic arms which, by their very nature, will erase any stratigraphy that it may be digging into.

The OPRA instrumentation concept allows for an integrated, lightweight and simple apparatus for subsurface exploration via a small, spike like structure which contains integrated optical fibers coupled to small windows running down the length of the probe. Each window is connected to a spectrometer housed onboard the deploying spacecraft. Each window is separately interrogated via the spectrometer over the wavelength range 1-2.5 nm to produce a spectroscopic profile as a function of depth.

This project takes the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the OPRA instrumentation concept to level 3, which is defined by NASA to be the demonstration either analytically or experimentally of the proof of concept for critical functions of the proposed instrument. Firstly, to demonstrate that optical fibers are feasible for this type of application, we report on the techniques used by NASA to space qualify optical fibers. We investigate the optical performance of several fiber optic bundle configurations, both experimentally and numerically, to help optimize bundle performance. Optical bundles were then spectrally validated via a series of spectral comparisons between standardized reflectance spectroscopy targets and spectra obtained with the bundles. We also report on the integration of fiber optical bundles into other research and experimental results from several other groups within our research teams to obtain spectra under a more "space like" environment. Finally, the probe housing structural performance was investigated via finite element analysis, using probe penetration forces derived from data analysis of experimentation conducted by the Apollo lunar missions, and investigations into a mechanical analogue for the Martian regolith.